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story.lead_photo.caption Nicholas Nelson sings the role of Sarastro in The Magic Flute at the Albert Pike Memorial Temple. - Photo by John Sykes Jr.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's final comic opera, The Magic Flute, is full of Masonic symbolism. The auditorium of the Albert Pike Memorial Temple in downtown Little Rock is full of Masonic symbols.

Putting a production of the former into the latter, as the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra and Opera in the Rock are doing at 7 p.m. today and Friday (Friday's show is sold out), is a match made in musical and Masonic heaven.

The Magic Flute

7 p.m. today-Friday, Albert Pike Memorial Temple, East Seventh and Scott streets, Little Rock. Two-act opera by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, collaboration between Opera in the Rock and Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, with dancers from Arkansas Festival Ballet. Part of the orchestra’s Intimate Neighborhood Concerts series. Philip Mann conducts.

Tickets: $25, $10 for students and active-duty military

(501) 666-1761, Extension 100

The performances kick off the orchestra's spring 2015 Intimate Neighborhood Concerts season. And it's the first fully staged, multi-act opera to appear on a Little Rock stage since Wildwood stopped producing them in 2006.

The performances will be in English, using a text by Ruth and Thomas Martin (based on the original German libretto by Emanuel Schikaneder) that the Metropolitan Opera commissioned in the 1940s.

Tenor Vernon DiCarlo sings the role of Prince Tamino, who, after three Ladies (Maria Fasciano DiCarlo, Stephanie Smittle, Kelley Ponder) working for the Queen of the Night (coloratura soprano Dana Pundt) save him from a monster, agrees to take on a mission for the queen: rescue her daughter Pamina (soprano Bonnie Frauenthal) from the clutches of the sorcerer Sarastro (bass Nicholas Nelson).

Tamino and his sidekick, the comically cowardly bird catcher Papageno (baritone Darren Drone), journey to Sarastro's castle -- Tamino armed with a magic flute that has the power to charm the woodland creatures (dancers from Arkansas Festival Ballet) and Papageno with a set of magic bells. They discover that the supposedly evil magician in fact heads a temple and a cadre of followers devoted to Wisdom, and that Pamina is there but has been trying to escape the lecherous clutches of the villainous Monostatos (tenor Daniel Folts-Morrison).

After a set of stringent trials, Tamino and Pamina are inducted into the cult of Wisdom, Papageno finds his Papagena (soprano Genevieve West Fulks) and the Queen of the Night and Monostatos get their just desserts.

Robert Hupp, producing artistic director of the Arkansas Repertory Theatre, is the stage director. ASO Music Director Philip Mann conducts.

It turns out Mann and the Opera in the Rock folks had simultaneously been eyeing the Masonic temple as a venue.

"When we knew this was the venue, this was our choice of material," says producer Arlene Biebesheimer.

"It's ideally suited. The Masons have offered us the use of their ceremonial robes, and when you look at them, you say, 'There's the Queen of the Night. And there's Sarastro.' They're so beautifully made and physically just fabulous, as are the 1923 scenic drops."

"The idea came from a visit four years ago with James Graham, the top-ranking Mason," Mann says. "He gave me a tour of the space and showed me the backdrops, and I thought immediately, 'This is the absolute perfect opportunity to do Magic Flute.'

"There isn't a better venue one could imagine for that very Masonic work. It's not a work that is an allegory or has allusions to [Freemasonry]; it's steeped in Masonic tradition and rites and rituals."

The involvement of the Rep's Hupp and the Festival Ballet dancers makes it "very much a community effort, pulling together four organizations," Mann says. "I don't think any one of our organizations singly could have mounted a production of this scale."

The cast is a mix of locals (Drone and Frauenthal are natives of Sherwood and Little Rock, respectively; Fulks has been spending much of this season onstage with the Arkansas Arts Center's Children's Theatre) and imports (Pundt, born and raised in the small East Texas town of Liberty City, has been singing with the Seattle Opera; Nelson has recently been a resident artist at Portland Opera).

"One of my biggest pleasures is that Philip Mann has been so excited about working with these singers, producing music that this part of the world hasn't heard for awhile," Biebesheimer says. "His idea, which was brilliant, was to work it in as a part of the INC series.

"We are doing it in English so we can appeal to a family audience; we would like for lots of young people to get in there and enjoy it."

Mann adds, "This is a great reintroduction, or a great first experience with opera. It hopefully will get people hooked on this extraordinary and important part of the classical repertoire.

"There is a reason it's his most performed and programmed opera. It's his most popular with audiences. And its length, its dramatic content, the music makes it particularly important for someone experiencing opera for the first time."

Weekend on 01/22/2015

Print Headline: Mozart's Magic Flute ready to rock at Masonic center

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