Yale Opera’s production of “The Magic Flute” asks what it means to be human

Dustin Wills

Theater director Dustin Wills, a 2014 graduate of the Yale School of Drama, says there is a reckoning happening in his industry, an accountability for what one is putting on stage and what that work has to say socially and politically. “That’s where I’m coming from,” he said recently, during rehearsals for Yale Opera’s new production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, which he is directing. The 1791 opera, a Singspiel, was Mozart’s last. It added punctuation to his life and to an Age of Reason that was giving way to Romanticism. The story of The Magic Flute, crafted by librettist Emanuel Schikaneder, explored and celebrated Enlightenment ideals, the flaws of which, Wills pointed out, we are dealing with today. A movement that was born of goodwill, Wills said, forgot those who were not white, male European landowners.

“It would be irresponsible for me to allow this opera to happen in a vacuum,” Wills said. And while he can’t change the libretto, he has used the work as a vehicle for revisiting the original inquiry. “What is our modern-day equivalent of this movement?” he asked. Male-focused heroism, for one thing, is “really old nonsense,” Wills said, mentioning his own struggles with playing roles steeped in male stereotypes. With that in mind, he has reframed the focus—which Schikaneder trained on Tamino—to equally include Pamina. Wills’ fundamental inquiry is: What does it mean to be human?

The answer, to Wills, can be found, in part, in our relationship with artificial intelligence. “AI today is the exact same experiment,” he said, revisiting Enlightenment-period themes of egalitarianism and individualism. “You have to really investigate what a human is. In Saudi Arabia, they gave citizenship to a robot.” Wills’ turn directing The Magic Flute brings up the same moral questions that 18th century philosophers and artists were asking in their time. And that, he believes, is part of the responsibility of the artist who is faced with staying true to a piece of work while bringing it into a modern-day context without going too far. “If we’re not making attempts to find that line,” Wills said, “I don’t know how much of an audience in the future there’s going to be.” In other words, “How do you reconcile these beautiful, amazing old works with politics that are potentially very harmful and triggering today?”

The goal, he said, “is really to be absolutely more inclusive, to try to open the door wider to more people.” This production, he explained, gives us the opportunity to take a break from the chaos around us and also leaves us with questions to ask ourselves and one another. It is his job, he said, to push members of an audience beyond their comfort zones. “The artists are the ones who’re up all night thinking about the future,” he said.

It’s not all about angst, though. “We rehearse from a place of joy at all times,” he said, “because that’s what’s at the center of this thing.”

Soprano Anush Avetisyan ’18MM, who is sharing the role of Pamina with soprano Sylvia D’Eramo ’18MM, said, “It has truly been a joy working with Dustin on this production of The Magic Flute. What I have noticed and really appreciated is Dustin’s commitment to the work at hand. His vision and personality are rare in this world and I am grateful for them every day of rehearsal.”

Yale Opera presents a new production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute at the Shubert Theatre Feb. 16-18.

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DUSTIN WILLS

Published February 9, 2018
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Guest post: baritone Zachary Johnson ’17MM ’18MMA, on performing Opera Scenes

Baritone Zachary Johnson

On a chilly day in February 2015, I walked into Doris Yarick-Cross’ office for my audition interview. Nervous, and very excited, I answered a series of well-thought-out questions about my education, musicianship, and hopes for the future. I remember the interview well, but there will always be one question that sticks out to me: “Can you learn and memorize music quickly?” I answered, sang my audition, and later accepted my position and moved to New Haven the following September. Within the first week of school I was given a large envelope of music for my first production at Yale: Opera Scenes. I was to perform four different roles, in four different opera scenes — two in Italian, one in German, and one in English. I had just over a month to learn the repertoire, work with coaches, and sing the music from memory. I had my work cut out for me, but I thought back to that interview question and knew that this is what is expected from a singer in this program, and I was not going back down.

“Così fan tutte,” 2017

Opera scenes are an incredibly useful venture for singers, especially young singers intending to pursue a career in opera. While teaching us how to learn multiple styles of music in multiple languages at once, they also help us develop the skill of switching gears emotionally, mentally, and physically as we jump from character to character. I can remember transforming from an eccentric, dancing butler to a slow, dim-witted carpenter all in one night. What is unique about the Yale Opera is that the scenes programs are fully costumed and staged, so each snippet of these incredible operas can stand alone and tell their own stories. We get to work with incredibly talented vocal coaches that help us achieve a deeper understanding of the music and text so we are fully prepared to step on stage and bring these stories to life. Strengthening the ability to jump from character to character and language to language is an extremely useful skill for all opera singers, and Opera Scenes is one of the best programs for that. Following our scenes program in the fall, we perform a complete, fully staged production at the Shubert Theatre. The work chosen is usually one we performed a scene from the previous semester, which is an incredibly useful feature of the Yale Opera program. While developing the skill of balancing multiple roles is important, diving into an entire role and being able to understand the growth and trajectory of a single character is equally as vital for a young singer. the Yale Opera provides its singers with opportunities for both, and you will finish this program with a quicker mind, a thicker resume, and the skills you will absolutely need to balance the multifaceted workload of a professional opera singer.

“Don Quichotte,” 2016

In my third year here at the Yale School of Music, I still think back to that interview. I think back to that question. I will admit, in February 2015, that my answer lacked confidence. I was unsure if I possessed what it takes to be an opera singer. If you were to ask me the same question today, another chilly day, in November 2017, I would smile, think back on the incredible amount of opportunities I have been given in this program to develop as a singer, a musician, and a human being, and give you the most confident “Yes.”

LEARN MORE ABOUT THE NOV. 3 & 4 FALL OPERA SCENES PROGRAMS

Published November 2, 2017
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[ performances ]

Yale Opera performs The Marriage of Figaro at the Shubert Theater Feb. 13–15

figaro2The Yale Opera program at the Yale School of Music presents Mozart‘s timeless romantic comedy The Marriage of Figaro this February 13–15 at the Shubert Theater.

Ted Huffman is the stage director of this original production, and Dominique Trottein will conduct the Yale Philharmonia.

Many opera-lovers would name The Marriage of Figaro as their favorite opera. It appeals to those who love great melodies while remaining accessible through its engaging plot and memorable characters. The composer Johannes Brahms said: “In my opinion, each number in Figaro is a miracle; it is totally beyond me how anyone could create anything so perfect.” MORE

Published January 16, 2015
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Yale Opera presents an exciting new production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni Feb. 11 through 13

Stage director Sam Helfrich makes his Yale Opera debut

Working model of set. Photo by Andrew Cavanaugh Holland.

The Yale School of Music and Yale Opera will present Mozart’s masterpiece Don Giovanni February 11 through 13 at New Haven’s historic Shubert Theater. Performances take place at 8 pm February 11 and 12, and at 2 pm February 13.

With stage director Sam Helfrich at the helm, the creative team features original set design by Andrew Holland, costume design by Kaye Voyce, and lighting design by William Warfel. Giuseppe Grazioli, who enjoys an international career and has worked with Yale Opera numerous times, will conduct the Philharmonia Orchestra of Yale.

Helfrich, making his Yale Opera debut, is “delighted to be working with Yale Opera’s talented young singers on Don Giovanni, perhaps Mozart’s greatest opera.”

“The designers and I have created an entirely new production for Yale Opera, drawing inspiration from the Spanish origins of the Don Juan story in order to create a theatrical event rooted in classic images and, at the same time, hip, youthful, and which should strike a chord with smart modern audiences.”
– stage director Sam Helfrich

The opera will be performed in the original Italian with projected English translations. MORE

Published January 25, 2011
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Yale Opera announces spring repertoire and two international appearances

February to feature a new production of Don Giovanni at the Shubert Theater

Yale Opera's 2010 production of The Marriage of Figaro at the Shubert Theater

Yale Opera’s annual production at the Shubert Theater will be a brand-new production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, conducted by Giuseppe Grazioli and directed by Sam Helfrich. The production, to be performed February 11, 12, and 13, 2011, will feature set design by Andrew Holland, costume design by Kaye Voyce, and lighting design by William Warfel. The opera will be performed in Italian with projected English translations.

In the spring, Yale Opera will present a double bill of The Scarf (music by Lee Hoiby) and Dido and Aeneas (music by Henry Purcell). This production, which will be directed by Mark Streshinsky, director, will be performed April 29 and 30, 2011. The production will feature lighting design by William Warfel and projections designed by Jeremy Knight.

In addition, Yale Opera will present two very exciting international concert performances:

Wonderful Town (Leonard Bernstein)
With the Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi
February 14–20, Milan, Italy

Maria Padilla (Gaetano Donizetti)
Performed in concert and recorded as a a part of the 2011 Beethoven Easter Festival
April 3–14, 2011, Warsaw, Poland

Published October 1, 2010
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Yale Opera announces spring repertoire

Winter production of The Marriage of Figaro
to be followed in April by a double-bill of Carmen and Le Rossignol


A scene from Yale Opera's production of Mozart's The Magic Flute at the Shubert Theatre, February, 2009. Photo by Jennifer Lester.

A scene from Yale Opera’s production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute at the Shubert Theatre, February, 2009. Photo by Jennifer Lester.

Yale Opera and artistic director Doris Yarick-Cross are pleased to announce the repertoire for its winter and spring productions. The winter production, which will take place at New Haven’s historic Shubert Theater in February, will be an Mozart’s popular The Marriage of Figaro. The opera will be performed in the original Italian with projected English translations. This production by Robert Driver will feature a creative team including stage director Vera Lúcia Calábria, set designer Boyd Ostroff, and lighting designer William Warfel. Christoph Campestrini will conduct the Yale Philharmonia.

The month of April will bring a double-bill of Bizet’s La Tragédie de Carmen and Stravinsky’s Le Rossignol. Both productions will be performed in their original languages – French for Carmen and Russian for Le Rossignol – with projected English translations. Mark Streshinsky will provide stage direction, Douglas Dickson and Timothy Shaindlin will provide musical direction and accompaniment, and William Warfel will design the lighting. The performances will take place April 16 and 17 at 8 pm in Morse Recital Hall in Sprague Hall. MORE

Published October 9, 2009
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Yale Opera presents a new production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute


Tamino with the Magic Flute and the Three Ladies

Follow the sound of Tamino’s magic flute into Mozart’s bewitching fairytale opera, where good triumphs over evil, darkness gives way to light, and love conquers all.

The Yale School of Music presents Yale Opera’s new production of Mozart’s classic Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) at the Shubert Theater, 247 College Street, Friday, February 13 and Saturday, February 14 at 8:00 pm and Sunday, February 15 at 2:00 pm. The creative team that created this exciting Magic Flute includes stage director Marc Verzatt and other members of the artistic staff of Yale Opera, Italian conductor Federico Cortese, lighting designer William Warfel, costume designer Thierry Bosquet (principal and men’s chorus costumes originally created for New York City Opera), and set designer Mikiko Suzuki MacAdams. The original set was built by students from the Yale School of Drama. Performers include an international cast of singers from Yale Opera, a chorus drawn from the New Haven and Yale communities, and the Philharmonia Orchestra of Yale. Doris Yarick Cross is the artistic director of Yale Opera.

The Magic Flute, Mozart’s last opera, is one of the most widely-performed and best-loved works in the repertory, with both comical whimsy and profound symbolism in abundance. It is actually a Singspiel, or “song-play,” with music and spoken dialogue. For this production, the spoken dialogue is in English, and director Marc Verzatt and Yale voice professor Richard Cross have collaborated on a new and often hilarious translation. The music will be sung in German with projected English translations.

The alternating casts feature the talented young singers of Yale Opera, including sopranos Mireille Asselin, Amanda Hall, Adelaide Muir, and Samantha Lane Talmadge; mezzo-sopranos Gala El Hadidi, Ana Sinicki, Emily Righter, Chrystal Williams; tenors Eric Barry, Tadeusz Szlenkier, and Michael-Paul Krubitzer; baritones David Pershall and Vince Vincent; and basses Jeremy Bowes, Damien Pass, and Tyler Simpson. Soprano Stephanie Gregory, an alumna of the Yale School of Music, will join the cast as a guest artist. The three spirits will be sung (also in alternating casts) by Yale College students Lucy Fitz Gibbon, Emily Misch, Eliza Bagg, Chloe Zale, Elizabeth Picker, and Marianne Schuck.

Tickets are $19-$41, $13 for students with ID, at the Shubert box office, 203.562.5666 or 888.736.2663, or at www.shubert.com. Senior and group discounts are available. For further information, please visit the School of Music web site at  music.yale.edu, or call 203.432.4158.

Published February 12, 2009
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