Part 2: Opera at Ravinia Park as a privately funded Illinois Music Festival

August 24, 2012

Friday, August 24, 2012

ThornerBy Nancy Thorner –
What made the two operas Conlon selected to produce at  Ravinia 2012 so special?

I would be amiss not to share the knowledge imparted by Conlon at his two pre-preformance lectures, with the hope that at least a few of you might betempted to try opera between now and the summer of  2013 when the Ravinia Festival once again offers opera on its agenda.

While “The Magic Flute” was the last great opera Mozart wrote before his passing in 1791, “Idomeneo” was Mozart’s first major opera written when only 26 years of age.

“Idomeneo” differs from “The Magic Flute” in that “Idomenio” was written in the Italian language, while “The Magic Flute” is in German.  As a young man Mozart traveled to Italy, learned the Italian language and then returned home to Austria to write Italian opera better than a native born Italian opera composer.

Written in the style of an Italian opera, “Idomenio” employs what is known as recitative, where the dialogue or narration is sung instead of spoken in a free vocal style.

As a German opera “The Magic Flute” qualifies as a “singspiel” (literally meaning “song-play”), where the dialogue is spoken instead of sung.

Conlon, however, eliminated the singspiel from Ravinia’s production of “The Magic Flute.”  Instead actor John De Lancie served as the narrator with his witty and very-up-to-date narrative which enabled the singers to concentrate fully on their singing.

Mozart’s “Idomeneo” as a political statement?

Just as every story has a plot, the same is true for every.opera.  In opera the plot is conveyed through a series of arias (expressive melodies), through which singers portray the characters called for in the story line.

Idomeneo represented Mozart’s first commission to produce a specific work.  Richard Strauss, who much admired Mozart’s music, called “Idomeneo” a “youthful burst of youthful energy.”

The opera contains incredibly beautiful music and vocal ensembles, which was a revolutionary idea introduced by Mozart.  Here to fore it was the norm for singers not to have to share the limelight with another singer on stage.

To James Conlon’s regret, “Idomeneo” is not performed very often because of the difficulty of assembly a cast of singers all in one place capable of singing the complex vocal parts written by Mozart.

The story line of  “Idomeneo” has to do with love vs. duty or loyalty to ones country (or God), as is depicted in the story of Issac and Abraham in the Old Testament of the Bible.  The  main character in “Idomeneo” is faced with the same quandary of love vs. duty with own his son as Abraham faced with Issac, but the plot of “Idomeneo” centers on the Trojan War.

I was somewhat offended when the king’s son was portrayed by an attractive woman. To see on stage a woman expressing deep love and affection toward another woman who presumably he would marry did not set well with me.  Mozart did use women to portray men in his operas, but they remained as women and portrayed men only when the plot called for a gender disguise.

Was the choice of a woman to assume the role of a male character in “Idomeneo” a political statement on the part of Ravinia?, especially when informed that Mozart wrote the part to be sung by either a soprano and a tenor.

The Magic Flute as a fairy tale with ties to Freemasonry?

Turning to “The Magic Flute,” there is a fairy tale aspect to it.  An integral part of the story involves a magic flute and bells.  Possessing either enables those to whom they are given to stay out of trouble.

There are those who believe that beneath the surface of the fairy tale aspect of “The Magic Flute” lies veiled references to masonic rituals and symbols.

Founded in the late 18th century as the moral alternative to the Roman Catholic Church, freemasonry was very popular with the intellectually elite during the early 1780’s, during which time Mozart joined a lodge.

Others are of the opinion that “The Magic Flute” was advocating for the inclusion of women in Masonic lodges, referring to “The Magic Flute” as the first openly feminist opera because of the way Mozart elevated women in its plot.

Looking ahead to 2014

Although the summer season is drawing to a close, likewise are Ravinia Festival offerings, don’t miss an opportunity to attend a Ravinia concert if up in the area of northern Illinois for an end-of-the-summer outing.   www.ravinia./org/Calendar.aspx

Regarding opera at Ravinia, two years is not a long time to wait until opera once again makes its appearance at Ravnia Park.  The absence of opera next summer and the anticipation of its return in the summer of  2014, will make its bi-yearly appearance at Ravinia an even greater musical treat and one that is well worth waiting for.


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