magdalene minnaar the magic flute

February 2018. Interview by Marelise Jacobs. Images courtesy of Magdalene Minnaar. Photo credit: Biblioteek Productions and Annéne van Eeden

This February, Johannesburg audiences will be treated to a unique production of Mozart's famous The Magic Flute. South African soprano Magdalene Minnaar is at the helm of this shortened, family-friendly opera being performed on February 2nd at, and in collaboration with, the Deutsche International Schule Johannesburg. The production features costumes and props designed by Imile Wepener and Pieter Claassens who was tasked with creating the look and feel of the opera using only recycled resources. Magdalene spoke to us about adapting the script to suite a younger audience while still staying true to the original.

The (Recycled) Magic Flute production forms part of the Johannesburg International Mozart Festival, who first initiated the production and why specifically The Magic Flute?

Magdalene: In the past few years I have regularly performed at the Johannesburg International Mozart Festival and so this year, festival director Richard Cock invited me to do an opera collaboration with the Deutsche Schule Johannesburg. This theme of the 2018 festival is Papageno / Papagena which is of course the bird characters in the Magic Flute. I thought it would be really interesting and fun to do a shortened, family-friendly production. We are collaborating with the Deutsche Schule choir as well as some of their dance and acting students. They have a very strong dance and drama program so it really was the perfect collaboration.

“...I am a very passionate recycler and collaborated with Imile Wepener and Pieter Claassens who are two phenomenally talented artists. They have just blown my mind with what they’ve come up with...” - Magdalene Minnaar

Why the family-friendly approach?

Magdalene: I have personally been very involved in developing young audiences through Little Maestros, a program that teaches young kids a love for classical music from an early age. So for me, doing a family production means that both young and old can enjoy it, not just the adults. When you are working with kids, you want their friends to come and watch as well as their parents but you don’t want the adults to be bored. So it’s not necessarily a children’s production, you want a script that appeals to both adults and the kids, keeping both audiences entertained all the time. The Magic Flute is actually also prescribed subject music for matric which is fantastic because it means we can take the production further and to many other schools as well.

Left / Top: Magdalene Minnaar.   Right / Below: All the costumes and props were either made from recycling or upcycled from previous productions.

magdalene minnaar
the recycled magic flute
As director, were you involved in adapting the script to suite a younger audience?

Magdalene: Yes, I did a lot of research on previous truncated versions of The Magic Flute. I made a short list of scenes which I wanted to keep and compared it with José Dias, my musical director who I regularly work with. We more or less had the same things in mind and started workshopping what our shortened version would look like. I adapted the script from the original German, added a few our own jokes and a couple of South African-isms. It’s a difficult process because there are such beautiful musical and story pieces that you would like to keep. In our version we have also taken out some characters completely such as Monostatos who is seen as a very racist character.

The production has a very exciting and modern look. Please tell us about the “Recycled” angle and the artists behind it?

Magdalene: I am a very passionate recycler and when we figured out that we only have a small amount for costumes and set design in our budget, we decided to use resources which would otherwise have ended up on the landfill. I started looking around for collaborators and found Imile Wepener and Pieter Claassens who are two phenomenally talented and creative artists. They have just blown my mind with what they’ve come up with. Our prince is in golden tekkies and bubble wrap pants while our Queen of the Night is in Latex and CD’s. It’s amazing.

Please tell us more about the cast?

Magdalene: We’ve got six phenomenal singers in the production. The Queen of the Night who is obviously one of the most famous characters in The Magic Flute is played by the Chinese soprano Jessica Ng. Our narrator, who is the most central figure in our version, is played by Nic Nicolaidis who is just an amazing multi-talented singer. Then we have Conroy Scott from Cape Town as Sarastro and Frances du Plessis, who just went through to the semi finals in the Unisa singing competition, as our Pamina. Chris Mostert is portraying Tamino and Ané Pretorius plays the role of the very frivolous bird lady, Papagena.