The Magic Flute

Opera pits good vs. evil in mystical Egypt


— Stephanie Reineke grew up here. She graduated from Steamboat Springs High School and got her first experience as a lighting designer in the theater there. Before she moved back here from Denver, she made a name for herself as the technical director at Denver University. Reineke was nominated by the Denver Drama Critics Circle for best sound design, best set design and even best supporting actress.

"I've done it all," Reineke said.

No one can deny Reineke is good at what she does.

"She's really a very brilliant person," Metropolitan Opera bass LeRoy Lehr said. "What she does with ('The Magic Flute') is visually very interesting."

Now she is back in the control booth where she got her start, teaching two recent high school graduates the subtleties of lighting design.

Glen Hammond and Carter Dunham, graduates of SSHS, assisted Reineke with the opera's set design.

"The only way I could intrigue 18-year-olds to work on an opera was to give them a chance to create scenes that have never been done here before."

Throughout the production, Reineke was a mentor and teacher, but, she said, "I couldn't have done this without their inspirations.

They don't have the experience, but they have ideas. We've learned a lot from each other."

Hammond and Dunham plan to study theater in college.

The set for "The Magic Flute" uses minimal props -- a series of platforms and a moon -- and relies almost solely on light and projected images.

"It's very stylized," Reineke said. "I am trying to capture the idea of an actual Mozart production." Using a high-tech lighting system, she creates a low-tech atmosphere.

"The Magic Flute" was the last opera written by Mozart before his death. It tells the story of a prince who falls in love with a princess and accepts a quest to rescue her. In classic fairy tale form, there is a struggle between good and evil.

"The Magic Flute" takes place in Egypt with characters moving freely between the spiritual world and the world of the living.

This is the first full opera to be staged in Steamboat Springs, an undertaking Emerald City Opera plans to repeat next summer.

"The Magic Flute" was chosen partly for its accessibility, but as Reineke said, "this opera is more accessible but it is harder to stage because there is magic and spirits."

The opera also involves a heavy dose of mysticism intended by Mozart to invoke the rituals of the Masons.

Mozart was 28 years old when he joined the Masonic Lodge in 1784.

The number three had deep significance for the Masons and the number keeps occurring throughout the opera, in the music and the story line -- three ladies, three boys and three temples.

But the Steamboat interpretation of "The Magic Flute" is translated from German into English and stripped of many complications that may confuse the audience.

"I stuck with a face-value interpretation (of the set)," Reineke said. "I didn't get all Masonic on people. There are no conspiracy theories in the set design."

LeRoy Lehr, who sings the part of Sarastro, said the ritual involved in "The Magic Flute" is incidental to the piece.

"They exist, but it isn't the focus," Lehr said.

The opera, Lehr said, is accessible to anyone.

Even children will have no trouble understanding the simple story, he said.

"We did not choose a weird interpretation of this opera," he said.

Lehr is entering the 13th season at the Metropolitan Opera where he sings as many as 10 operas in a season.

"I have sung ("The Magic Flute") so many times, I couldn't even tell you how many," he said.

The season at the Met ended in late April; Lehr doesn't have to return until September. Singing in Steamboat is as much work as it is vacation, he said, but it is also a chance to work with his wife, stage director Veronica Reed.

Reed and Lehr met in 1982 when they worked together in a show "neither of us had been scheduled to do," he said.

In the years since, this is only the third time they have worked together.

Why bring opera to a rural mountain town in Northwest Colorado?

"I've thought about it a lot," Reineke said. "I think this has been a real learning experience for locals who got to see how other professionals work in the field.

"It would have been a lot easier to bring in a complete cast from elsewhere instead of training and directing people who had never done it before," Reineke said.


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