Inside the Magic Flute R&D Project

What does it mean to dream a good dream?

What does it mean to dream a bad dream? 

How does one tell the difference between the two?

Some of us never really focus on our dreams; the ones we have in our sleep I mean, not the ones that we aspire to achieve. On the rare occasion that we do however, there tends to be bias in the dreams we decide to probe further. Why is that? Is that the right way to approach our dreams? Has there ever been a right way? Do we not give the lucidity of our dreams as much credit as we should? If not, should we give it a lot more attention?

Before I let my thought process run from me, I should probably let you know what set it off in the first place. I was one of six writers from Soho Writers Lab that had the pleasure of taking part in a research and development (R&D) project by OperaUpClose. The two-week workshop consisted of reviewing and reinventing the plot summary of the revered opera The Magic Flute by Mozart.

I shouldn’t have, but I allowed my initial assumptions of opera being a tight lipped, white collared industry, filled with elite individuals who are predominately of white ethnicity get the better of me. I didn’t think my opinions would be of value during the R&D process, nor did I expect it to based on my experience - or lack of for that matter. This informed, and in some ways explained the tentative approach I took when putting myself forward for a place on the workshop. After all, as much as I thoroughly enjoy opera, to call myself an amateur is an overstatement, as I have a lot to learn. I’d also had no previous exposure to The Magic Flute prior to this workshop.

What changed my perspective slightly and in turn my decision to go ahead and attend this workshop with an open mind however, was how I felt after seeing OperaUpClose’s rendition of Carmen by Georges Bizet. Their modernistic take on an opera that I would have never imagined myself enjoying thrilled me. It spurred on a curious adventure I found myself keen on exploring. It makes sense therefore that I found this as an opportunity to get me started.

It’s the first day.

With doubts niggling in the back of head and still unsure of what to expect, I walk into our first session with the brightest smile on my face. What began as nerves calmed down very quickly, as I started to see some of my initial concerns about the people in opera denounced. None of the attendees on that day or in subsequent sessions were white collared or too elite to speak to us. In fact, they were the complete opposite - warm, welcoming and happy to do whatever it took to help my peers and I settle in and complete the tasks at hand.

My observations found further validation once everyone answered a question we were each supposed to answer: what was the last dream you had?

Now as far as introductions go, this is an interesting way of getting to know someone - that or weird, depending on the way you receive the question. Fortunately, we were all intrigued enough by the question to positively respond, yet our answers were what really threw us. Going around in a circle of singers, musicians and dramaturges, we found ourselves opening up, sharing and exploring the strange and wonderful world that awakens once our eyelids closed. This was to be the staple of discussions we found ourselves having over subsequent sessions.

As the days went on, the nerves faded and I settled in my concerns and felt comfortable. A new picture was forming in my mind; everyone I met were all just human beings, who were striving to achieve an ambition of theirs. They’ve all had different journeys to get to this very moment, just like me. They are all driven by a passion, which they have a yearning to succeed in. It wasn’t about the money, or how they important they wanted to appear. It was, and always has been, pursuing an art form that they loved.

Our talks/ explorations ventured into highlighting the relatable themes we found The Magic Flute were still reflected in the present day. These included - but were not limited to - questions such as:

  1. When was the last time we woke up and learnt something new about ourselves, either for our future or something old with a new spin?
  2. Did we proactively do something about it?
  3. What about the dreams that stayed with us, even after we woke up throughout the day? When last did we have one of those?
  4. Does our gender have an impact on the types of dreams we have, as well as our reactions to them?
  5. What about race, social status, race and sexuality? Would we react to each of these themes in our dreams the same way we would in real life?
  6. If we do, then sure, that would mean that our dreams are a reflection of reality and society? But are they really? Or are they in fact a revelation of our truest, innermost selves?
  7. What about those who don’t dream at all? What impact does it have on them? 

We eventually found that our characters do in fact affect the nature of our dreams, but to settle for the assumption that our dreams are just a reflection of our reality would be doing this brilliant narrative a disservice, as dreams can be so much more than that. With that in mind, we set out to mould and create roles that highlighted these complexities.

There was a great deal of ‘is the lion really a lion or a mouse?’ debate with the characters, as we grappled with the idea of whose dream this really was, and what it was really about. Is it Pamina’s struggle for attention from her lover? Or Tamino’s fear of what it means to be a man? Is Papageno’s comedic outlook on life just a cover up for his lack of confidence, or really an acknowledgement of how self aware he is? What about the queen of the night? Is her role a symbol of a common fear the three characters face? If so, what could that fear be, and how would it manifest itself?

Thus, we reviewed, challenged and encouraged perspectives, which we may not have had access to, if we had followed a more conventional and traditional route where the creative process was concerned. 

Armed with a new libretto filled with arias beautifully re-written by Glyn Maxwell, and a collaborative vision led by Valentina Ceschi, we experimented, trialled and practically demonstrated the conclusions of our thoughts through role-plays and scenes for the first act. These were brought to life by the amazing singers who blew us away with their wholesome voices. I’m sure I speak for all of us when I say that they inspired us as emerging creatives. To be able to witness the outcome of hard work, commitment, investment and dedication to develop such talent gave us the motivation we needed to continue pursuing ours.

I will say no more than that, simply because I believe in the element of surprise - that, and also spoilers don’t and shouldn’t apply to operas as far as I’m concerned. Rest assured however that the final outcome will be a very pleasant one indeed.

I’d be very naive in concluding that this industry is a rosy one, or one where characters of my aforementioned assumptions don’t exist. But I did learn the value in my approach - although I began this process with an open mind and not much else, I left with an open mind and so much more. It’s a learning curve I really needed and will always remember.

By Angela Wereko-Anderson