Arts & CultureCampus & City

An Opera for the People: Q&A with Laren Steppler of The Magic Flute

What:  The Magic Flute
When: March 15, 2019
Where: Convocation Hall
Tickets: Free!
Stage Director: Kate Ryan
Conductor: Michelle Mourre

In a climate where self-help books top New York Times bestseller lists, Mozart’s message is still surprisingly relevant —even though it was written in an era where Washington still looked over America and surgeries were routinely sterilized with basement liquor. The Magic Flute was one of Mozart’s last works; the renowned composer passed away shortly after its premiere. The piece was likely seen by the bourgeoisie of the time (who were, ironically, the exact group of people being guillotined in France right when it was released), but this timeless piece is now being brought to the University of Alberta masses.

The Gateway interviewed Laren Steppler, the actor playing the character of Tamino (a.k.a. The flute guy), about the opera, singing in German, and why everyone should get out and see this masterpiece.   

The Gateway: Would you say it’s a play or a musical?

Laren Steppler: It’s an opera, yup. So an opera, to me, that’s like an early ancestor of musical theatre. So it’s got singing and costumes and acting and some operas have dialogue, The Magic Flute has dialogue. So yeah, it’s more reminiscent of musical theatre in that sense. Musical theatre is more of a modern style. The Magic Flute was written in 1791, so early theatre, I guess.

Why does this piece matter to you — what about this piece drew you in? You play Tamino, right?

Yup, he’s the lead character in the opera. I was convinced by some friends in the program to join the opera. It specializes in opera singing and training, and that’s kind of what we do with our private teachers… and the teachers and students were kind of saying that if you’re in this program, you should consider doing the opera, because most of us want to do opera as a career or be professional opera singers. When I learned that the University of Alberta has an opera workshop, I decided to come to this program. This is my first year here, and I thought I should audition and see if I like it, if I could make it work, and I got lucky and got the lead role.

So you’re going to sing in German for us?

Yup. So usually the operas are sung in the language that it was composed in, and the dialogue is usually done in the language where it’s being performed. So the dialogue will be in English, and the singing in German.

What if you were a Joe or Jane in a faculty like engineering, would you go to this piece?

Well, I think something really good about this is that it’s free admission, and it’s good for young people who might have an interest in seeing what the opera is all about, and they can experience their first opera for free. The Edmonton opera does shows, and their tickets are really expensive — $180 for a ticket, and a lot of these young people don’t have $180 to go spend to see the opera. There’s lots of people in the cast who aren’t music majors, who are taking humanities, the sciences —

but what would you say to convince them to go?

I think opera is an all-encompassing art form, the same as musical theatre. You have drama, acting, and I think there’s a little piece everyone can take. It’s an art form of multiple different kinds of artforms. Visually, it’s good. The way the staging and set works… if you have an interest in visual art you can get that, if you’re a fan of music — classical music — you can get that, too.

So it’s not exactly a Drake concert; you can’t show up drunk.

Can’t show up drunk, no, it’s definitely more of a “sit and listen.” I think a lot of people haven’t seen an opera, and I think people should value experiences. If you’re an old person who’s never seen an opera and thinks they should have seen one when they had the chance — luckily for opera, you don’t have to do much other than sit and listen. You don’t have to be young and mobile to go.

What are the past, present, and future of this opera?

Historically, I think The Magic Flute was Mozart’s masterpiece. He died when it premiered. And opera back then was the Drake concert. People would go and that would be their huge thing… and it’s pretty amazing that when you perform Mozart, you sing the exact same notes that are on the page — you can’t really adapt or change it in terms of the music, but you can adapt and change it in terms of its interpretation. So when you go and see it, it’s not always period clothing; the way we’re doing it is more of a modern take of it. There’s two dozen different versions of TMF on YouTube, and each one has kind of a different age. So you can see how it evolves with time — I’ve seen The Magic Flute where it was set in space, the Star Wars universe, futuristic worlds. I think the themes of the show: themes of wisdom and love. That’s not really stuff that goes away with time; that’s stuff that we always have, and The Magic Flute will be performed for hundreds more years.

What message do you think the piece is trying to tell the audience?

I think it says that good things will come to you if you spend time working on yourself; if you’re searching for wisdom and bettering yourself as a person then you’re rewarded.

Are you nervous?

A little bit. I don’t get that nervous from performing live anymore. I just think that nerves are a good thing: it shows that you care.

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