Over the last few years, I've written about the death and rebirth of opera in Orlando so many times that it's starting to seem like a sucky Superman sequel. But with two companies offering fully staged operas (complete with live musicians) in April, it appears the classic musical theater art form is battling back from extinction yet again.
Orlando's opera renaissance kicks off with April 1, April 3 and April 5 performances of the Orlando Philharmonic production of Mozart's The Magic Flute, the composer's final opera and one of his most beloved. "The imagination of Mozart is ever powerful and overwhelming with his brilliant and classic Magic Flute," said recently appointed music director Eric Jacobsen in a written statement. "This opera was written and performed just a few months before he died in Vienna. Mozart was painfully aware of his final days to create, and with breathless speed and artistry, pushed out some of his most timeless and staggering works."
Jacobsen is collaborating with stage director Alison Moritz, who comes to Orlando after a season as resident assistant director at the Minnesota Opera. "In this production, we're exploring some of the inherent humor and drama involved in rehearsing and performing an opera," Moritz explains in a statement, saying the production drew inspiration from farces like Noises Off and the Marx Brothers' A Night at the Opera, but also "providing a commentary on the relevance of The Magic Flute today."
The Magic Flute will be performed at the Plaza Live on Bumby Avenue, which the Orlando Philharmonic purchased in 2013 and transformed into its new home. A renovated movie theater may not seem like the natural environment for an opera, but Moritz compared it to "a contemporary equivalent of the suburban Theater auf der Wieden, where The Magic Flute had its premiere." The Plaza Live will also host the next two operas on the Orlando Philharmonic's 2016-2017 schedule: Leonard Bernstein's Candide in October, and Donizetti's The Elixir of Love next February.
Just weeks after the Phil's Flute finishes, Opera Orlando arrives with an April 22-24 double feature of comic one-acts, Mozart's Impresario and Poulenc's Les Mamelles de Tiresias. Opera Orlando, which was formerly known as Florida Opera Theatre, has a new name to better identify it to local audiences and a new home in the Dr. Phillips Center's Alexis & Jim Pugh Theater, where it is scheduled to present a full season.
Director-in-residence Eric Pinder, who adapted the script from a translation by Josh and Kelsey Shaw, describes the "whimsical, surrealist" show as "ridiculous and beautiful at the same time." Pinder has updated Mozart's tale of a struggling opera company with local references, then used it as a framing device for Poulenc's 1917 gender-bending satire about a woman who discards her breasts while her husband births thousands of babies. "It plays with language and gender roles in society, and a lot of it is very subversive," says Pinder. "There are a lot of sexual puns that I refused to translate, because I don't want to get in trouble!"
Previously, the former Florida Opera Theatre and Orlando Philharmonic had collaborated on presentation, but don't interpret their separate productions now as a sign of schism. Pinder says he'd "love to work with them, [and I] hope we can develop a working relationship," and you'll spot several of the same singers in both shows. And even without the Phil's resources, Opera Orlando will utilize an orchestra of 16 live musicians to accompany their performance.
"We really need to get younger people involved in opera," Pinder explains, addressing the inevitable issue of aging opera audiences. "You're always going to have the diehard opera fans, [but] what we need is for young people to come in who don't yet think of opera as an exciting art form and be transformed." To that end, Opera Orlando is exploring a "bring your own venue" performance at the Orlando Fringe and other site-specific works to bring opera out of its traditional venues.
"It's very important for people to understand that it's not just sort of museum piece," Pinder concludes. That's a sentiment echoed by Moritz, who says, "Opera and classical music are not only art; they're entertainment." Don't pop the champagne quite yet, but if these two productions prove successful, local opera fans may be in a merry mood by May.