by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Theoretical Design, The Royal Opera House, 2016
Director: Martin Constantine
Set & Costume Designer: Eleanor Bull
This production of the Magic Flute is based round the ideas of conflict and unity- inspired by the roots of the esoteric imagery within the opera and the roles of gender within the Libretto.
An Opera about two worlds divided, The Magic Flute leads the audience through fantastical realms defined by the conflict of their respective rulers: The Queen of the Night and Sarastro.
The opera begins in the Queen of the Night’s Realm- a diseased and barren natural landscape dominated by two huge blood red structures, taking the form of sinewy, fleshy mountains.
As the action progresses, we move into Sarastro’s Realm: which deals in the man-made world, the trappings of scientific development, civilisation, and society. As we get deeper into Sarastro’s temple, the set becomes increasingly structural & architectural, gradually closing-off the Queen of the Night’s realm one step at a time until no signs of nature can be seen at all.
Sarastro’s world manifests itself as an isolated Cargo Cult, where our every day objects have been found in isolation, misappropriated, and revered as god-like relics, worshipping the mundane as if it were magic. The cult is driven by fear, especially fear of contamination from the outside world of the Queen of the Night. This is reflected in the costumes, the ridiculous kagool-like robes and hazmat suits of Sarastro’s subjects highlighting their fear of femininity and ultimately undermining their misogynistic agenda.
Left: The Three Ladies
Right: The Queen of the Night
The stage is a landscape of dramatic blood-like mounds spread across barren land. Characters enter and exit through, from within, and around the mounds.
This realm is representative of the masculine-driven fear of femininity, shown through the strong presence of the moon combined with the womb-like nature of the landscape.
During the interval the stage changes to become representative of the world within Sarastro's Fortress. The mounds truck backwards. Although still visisble, their primary presence is now blocked by temple-like stone stairs. A huge stone & bronze plug statue is bathed in a holy spotlight, it is surrounded by the Priest's stone thrones.
As well as reflecting Cargo-Cult mentality, this scene also includes references to esoteric imagery, especially the importance of the number 3 within Freemasonry.
As the action of the opera progresses and the characters move though different rooms within the temple, the space becomes more and more structural, closing off the Queen of the Night's world scene by scene.
Here a stone wall featuring three towering entrances is trucked in.
In the final scene of the opera, the union happens between Pamina and Tamino and the chorus celebrate the arrival of sunlight. As the orb is lit from within, the backs of the corridors fly out to reveal sunlight and a verdant, thriving outside-world. The full chorus trickle-in through the 3 entrances and down the steps, marvelling at the spectacle. They each remove their goggles/eyewear and unify in celebration of the balance being restored.
The orb pivots round revealing a cavity in its rear in which Pamina and Tamino sit together on thrones in their priestly garments.
This scene-change coincides with The Priests' Chorus: O Isis and Osiris. The large hand statue raises slowly up from a cavity beneath the stage, as - in synchronicity - the metal orb is slowly flewn in from above, these two elements eventually unify as the hand 'catches' the orb and sits in this position for the rest of the opera.
As this section progresses, solemn Priests and chorus-members/initiates appear through the three corridors to watch in awe as the spectacle unfolds.