Joshua Hopkins

Enter the forest world of The Magic Flute. Vancouver Opera’s current production is decidedly First Nations-themed. As the show opens, beautiful backdrops of Vancouver are superimposed together with softly crashing waves. Both city and nature are represented while the music of Mozart introduces the two-act performance.

John Tessier; Joshua Hopkins; Leah Alfred; Marion Newman; Melody Mercredi
[John Tessier; Joshua Hopkins; Leah Alfred; Marion Newman; Melody Mercredi]

Saturday night’s fully-packed opening started with a Coastal Nations blessing on stage. Backing up a few more paces, the lobby was infused with colourful costumes and drum songs by Eagle Song Dancers, members of the Squamish Nation.

First Nations iconography decorates much of the costumes on stage as well. A few women appear with head dresses of a raven and eagle. Other women are painted blue from head to toe. Wispy curtains mimic the shape of waves for added dimension, while banners unfurl to the floor, soon each donning a tree branch superimposed on them. Kevin McAllister’s scenery decoration is lush and takes the audience from a boreal rain forest in one moment, to the crashing waves on the shore in the next, highlighting the mystical power of nature at our doorstep.

tree canopy

An upper level catwalk at times resembles a tree canopy in the middle of a forest. This adds yet another layer of texture. Lighting designer Alan Brodie works in tandem with McAllister and the rest of the crew in making this a sensory experience for both the eyes and ears.

And between these gorgeous, organic images is the cast, with John Tessier’s gorgeous voice as Tamino, calling out to his love Pamina, The Queen of the Night’s daughter. Simone Osborne wowed audiences last year with Roméo et Juliette, her silken voice adding passion to her role.

Simone Osborne, Joshua Hopkins
[Simone Osborne as Pamina; Joshua Hopkins as Papageno]

My favourite performers were Joshua Hopkins (Papageno) and Philip Ens (Sarastro), whose bass voice complements a strong and powerful presence, particularly as he stands on the platform above, commanding down to his council.

Papageno is a fun-loving bird catcher after a bird of his own. He loves to boast, but in the play is put to the test as is his friend Tamino. Each will endure several trials in order to gain their respective partners in love.

Teiya Kasahara

Teiya Kasahara performs stunningly as The Queen of the Night, dressed as a blue butterfly, her wings spanning to catch all the high notes during her moments on stage. This is her Vancouver debut and from Saturday’s performance, I doubt it will be the last we hear of her.

The Vancouver Opera does a fine job of marrying the spirit of the First Peoples of British Columbia into a timeless work; the 2013 version is similar to the 2007 premiere, with a few visual change-ups. When council meets in the second act, they recount a First Nations hand greeting, and several Musqueam words are used during the production. A team of First Nations advisors were brought on to add authenticity.

John Tessier in First Nations canoe

Costumes use ancient designs from 10 coastal First Nations and are inspired by elements of cedar, fern, moon, animal and night. The flute is carved of cedar, and in the story is made from Pamina’s father. The Magic Flute guides Tamino and Papageno through the forest, protecting them from harm. “Protected by sweet music’s night, we enter now the dark of night.”

The happy outcome is shared by a gorgeous transformation on stage when Tamino plays the flute as is reunited with his love. And Papageno gets his Papagena too. In true BC fashion, she arrives on a golden structure with the Northern Lights flickering in the background. Their joyous reunion is enhanced with spectacle and colour. If you’ve ever seen The Magic Flute, this one’s not like anything you’ve ever seen—guaranteed. The Magic Flute continues at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre through March 17.

All photos by Tim Matheson.

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