The Magic Flute

Production and Design

Sketch of arched gateway by designer John Ferguson Pacific Opera's production of The Magic Flute, set in Vienna at the turn of the 20th century, will feature Edwardian costumes and a set inspired by Otto Wagner's 1898 Karlsplatz pavilion. Designer John Ferguson is creating an airy, crystal and gold effect to evoke the transcendent loveliness of Mozart's music and the magic of the story. A variety of scenes, including Tycho Brahe's model of the solar system, a garden, and the serpent that threatens Tamino, will be projected on a large oculus (a round opening – from the Latin word for eye). The projection designs are by Victoria artists Miles Lowry and David Ferguson.

Pacific Opera Victoria's production of The Magic Flute may be the first ever to be inspired by a train station! It's the brainchild of Artistic Director Timothy Vernon, who has long dreamed of producing a Flute that evokes the enchantment of the Vienna he knew as a student.

Director Glynis Leyshon and Designer John Ferguson are running with the concept, supported by the lighting designs of Gerald King and projection designs by artists David Ferguson and Miles Lowry.

The idea makes sense. Even when Die Zauberflöte is set in Egypt to suit the temples of Osiris and Isis, Vienna is its spiritual home.

Here Emanuel Schikaneder produced his spectacles for the common folk: fantasies with elaborate special effects and theatrical machinery, sure to appeal to the public in the same way musical theatre spectacles like The Lion King and Phantom of the Opera – or movie franchises like Batman or James Bond – draw in the crowds today.

Photo of set model showing arched gateway with Oculus behind itHere Schikaneder wrote the libretto for this Singspiel, creating the story out of a hodge-podge of plays, romances, fairy tales, and Masonic lore. He probably didn't expect it to do more than make a bit of money and amuse the audience.

And here in Vienna, Mozart wrote the music for this hybrid opera. He took the comedy and fantasy of a Singspiel, added a new profundity that influenced German music and opera for generations, and gave us one of the most beloved masterpieces in the repertoire.

How is Pacific Opera conceiving its production of The Magic Flute?

As usual, Pacific Opera Victoria is creating a new production and building it in our own production shop. We've had a little help with the interpretation this time, thanks to Timothy Vernon:

Somehow to retain a Viennese flavour while renewing the perspective has been our goal; a century after the first Magic Flute, in a city full of art and innovation, Otto Wagner put his stamp on the place and the period with some magic of his own and in a way which still enchants.

That's where the train station comes in. The look of this production is inspired by the municipal train station Otto Wagner designed for Karlsplatz in Vienna – and by the era in which it was built.

One of the most important architects of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Otto Wagner combined technical and engineering expertise with an aesthetic sense that resulted in the harmonious marriage of beauty and function that was the essence of art nouveau.

The art nouveau movement represented a holistic approach to life and art – a belief in making art part of everyday life. Any utilitarian object, from a bridge to a chair, could be a thing of beauty. In Wagner's hands, many of the nuts and bolts of Vienna's city infrastructure became works of art that continue to intrigue and delight.

Karlsplatz Pavilion One of Wagner's most famous buildings is the Karlsplatz Pavilion. Part of a string of stations he designed for Vienna's first public transport system, it was built in 1898. By the 1960s it had to make way for a subway line, but the Pavilion's buildings were restored and today serve as a café and an art museum dedicated to the architect.

With its marble slabs and gilded ornamentation, apple-green trim, and sunflower motifs, Karlsplatz is an epitome of utility, beauty, and harmony, evoking the enchantment of Mozart's masterpiece and the elegant musical structure on which it rests.

The graceful elegance of fin-de-siècle Vienna and the spirit of Otto Wagner's marvellous creation are the inspiration for our setting of The Magic Flute.

Art Nouveau is known in German as Jugendstil, meaning Youth Style – an appropriate concept for an opera that appeals to young and old alike, that is, among so much else, about growing up and facing the music, about being young and in love and in Vienna.

Director Glynis Leyshon and Conductor Timothy in the POV production shop

Above: The Oculus, with Director Glynis Leyshon and Artistic Director Timothy Vernon. Right, on the wall, painted scene by production artist Paul Dishaw and plexiglass pieces for the arched gateway.


This production is generously supported by a gift from David H. Flaherty