For the opening performance of its 2016-17 season, Nice Opera presents Mozart’s The Magic Flute – the composer’s foray into a world of fantasy and enchantment.
This new staging of Mozart’s La Flûte enchantée, a co-production with Opéra de Marseille, stars colotura soprano Élizabeth Vidal as the Queen of the Night, soprano Anne-Catherine Gillet as her daughter, Pamina, tenor Mark Van Arsdale as the prince, Tamino, and bass baritone Luc-Bertin Hugault as the high priest Sarastro. Baritone Armando Noguera is Papageno the birdcatcher, soprano Pauline Cortin is Papagena, and baritone Loïc Felix is Monostatos, chief slave of the temple.
The Magic Flute is among the best known of Mozart’s operas, and the last which he wrote. Featuring some of his most tuneful compositions, it was almost completely written in the spring and summer of 1791, apart from the Overture, and the March of the Priests which opens Act II – both of which were completed a matter of days before the premiere performance.
The German libretto was written by the Austrian actor, tenor, playwright and theatrical producer, Emanuel Schikaneder, and was somewhat controversial because of its links to freemasonry – both Mozart and Schikaneder were masons. The Magic Flute had its premiere on 30th September, 1791, at the Theater auf der Wieden near Vienna, with the composer conducting. Mozart died, not long after this performance, on December 5.
Taking the form of a two-act Singspiel, which includes both singing and spoken dialogue, The Magic Flute depicts the conflict between The Queen of the Night – who represents darkness and the repression of knowledge – and Sarastro, a benevolent and enlightened monarch who bases his beliefs on wisdom and reason. The opera tells of the struggle faced by the handsome prince, Tamino, assisted by Papageno, to find enduring love and a heaven on Earth somewhere between these opposing forces. It draws us into a land of magical musical instruments in which Tamino goes in search of Pamina who is being held against her will by the character deemed to be the evil Sarastro. Accompanied by Papageno (sung in the original performance by Schikaneder),Tamino hopes to show that not only will true love conquer all, but that truth, wisdom and justice will prove to be victorious as well.
Niçoise coloratura soprano Élizabeth Vidal has a repertoire which ranges from the Baroque to Romantic opera. She has appeared in most of the major opera houses of the world, including The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, New York’s Lincoln Center, the Wiener Staatsoper, Konzerthaus Berlin, Hamburg Opera, La Fenice in Venice, the Grand Theatre of Geneva, and the Théâtre de la Monnaie in Brussels, performing roles such as the title in Delibes’ Lakmé, Nanette in Verdi’s Falstaff, Rosine in Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, Adele in Strauss’ Die Fledermaus, and Olympia in Offenbach’s Les contes d’Hoffmann. Recognized as one of the world’s finest coloratura sopranos, Ms Vidal’s voice has been described in glowing terms, L’événement du Jeudi, for example, having referred to “Its stunning virtuoso capacity …. its pure timbre and triumphant treble”. Ms Vidal has taught singing at the Nice National Conservatory since 2008, has been a consultant in vocal technique at the Bolshoi in Moscow, and regularly works with Opera Rara.
American tenor Mark Van Arsdale is attracting much critical acclaim, with L’Alsace describing him as “a sensitive tenor with an impeccable tone”, and the Boston Globe praising his “fine musicality”. A frequent guest artist at the Opéra national du Rhin in Strasbourg, he excels in the repertoire of Mozart operas. Mr Van Arsdale sang the role of Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni at the 2009 Tanglewood Festival under the direction of James Levine, appeared as Belmonte in Die Entführung aus dem Serail at the Sedières Festival and Ferrando in Così fan tutte, and has sung the role of Tamino in The Magic Flute in both Strasbourg and Paris.
Bass baritone Luc-Bertin Hugault, an artist of the Paris Opera, is recognised throughout France and internationally for the impressive number of roles in his repertoire. These include Dr Grenvil in Verdi’s La Traviata and The Bonze in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly in Avignon, the Mandarin in Puccini’s Turandot for Chorégies d’Orange, the Hermit in Weber’s Der Freischütz as performed at the Royal Albert Hall during the 2011 BBC Proms season and at the Opera Comique, Bartolo in Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, and Salieri in Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mozart and Salieri at the Strasbourg Musica Festival.
Recent highlights in the career of Belgian soprano Anne-Catherine Gillet include the roles of Gretel in Humperdinck’s Hänsel und Gretel at Garnier, Ilia in Mozart’s Idomeneo in Frankfurt, Gilda in Verdi’s Rigoletto at Théâtre de la Monnaie in Brussels, and at the Bolshoi Opera in Moscow, the title role in Massenet’s Manon in Lausanne, and Juliette in Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette in Monte-Carlo. Forthcoming engagements this season include Hero in Berlioz’s Béatrice et Benedict and Blanche in Poulenc’s Les Dialogues des Carmélites in Brussels, and Donna Anna in Mozart’s Don Giovanni in Lausanne.
Argentinian baritone Armando Noguera is known for his success in operas by Mozart. He has made regular appearances as Figaro in The Marriage of Figaro, Guglielmo in Cosí fan tutte, and Papageno in The Magic Flute. Following a recent performance in Quebec, Le Soleil commented on his having given the character of Papageno “a tasty and unexpected comic dimension”. Also a skilful exponent of the Italian repertoire, Mr Noguera has recently made an outstanding debut at Glyndebourne Festival in the role of Dandini in Rossini’s Cenerentola.
Stage direction for this production is by Numa Sadoul, who was raised and educated on the Côte d’Azur, and who made his debut as a designer in 1977 with a production of Wagner’s Parsifal for Opera Lyon. Despite having been in the business for forty years, this is his first for Opera de Nice Côte d’Azur. He has mounted several lyrical works in his region, he says, for the opera companies of Toulon and Marseille, and always hoped that one day he would be fortunate enough to do so in Nice. Mr Sadoul has chosen a contemporary setting for this staging of The Magic Flute, and says that what he wants to highlight “is the philosophy of this story that contrasts the universe of the night with that of the sun and show that in our world nobody is totally white or black.”
Conductor Ariane Matiakh is internationally recognised as an unusally versatile musician, with a repertoire which ranges from the Baroque to contemporary works – covering opera, ballet and symphonic engagements. She was nominated ‘Discovery of the Year’ in the prestigious 2009 Révélation des Victoires de la musique, chosen a Laureate of the Donatella Flick LSO competition in 2008, and appointed Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture in 2014. Most recently, she has conducted the Rundfunk Sinfonieorchester Berlin, Dresdner Philharmoniker, and the Orchestre du Capitole de Toulouse. She has led performances of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly at Göteborg Opera, and Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker for the Dutch National Ballet, and directed the Staatsphilharmonic Rheinland-Pfalz at the opening concert of the Kurt Weill Festival in Dessau.
Following Ms Matiakh’s appearance with the Aalborg Symphony Orchestra in 2013, Nordjyske Stiftsidende wrote: “The conductor of the evening, the French Ariane Matiakh, was an experience of its own. You rarely see such a precise and sharp touch and a conductor so very present in the music with gestures and facial expressions. She was on top of it to an exceptional degree, and the Aalborg S.O. gladly followed her safe directions.”
The Opera de Nice Côte d’Azur production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute is sung in German, with French surtitles. It opens on 30th November, and runs for four performances, until 6th December. Tickets may be reserved online.
Opéra de Nice Côte d’Azur
4 – 6, rue Saint François de Paule
Lead image courtesy Opéra de Nice Côte d’Azur