It has been almost ten years since soprano, Teiya Kasahara, and bass-baritone, Neil Craighead, performed in their first production of the Magic Flute at the University of British Columbia. Edmonton Opera's current production unites the two UBC and COC Ensemble Studio grads.
They play the contrasting principal roles with Kasahara as the vengeful Queen of the Night and Craighead as the prophetic Sarastro. Given their familiarity with the production having performed it in multiple forms, they both bring a thorough understanding of the text and story. "He is this enlightened personality but he is human and he is flawed," Craighead describes before continuing, "He tries to set the example for the rest of his enclave. He is representative of the light sun and good in the world, as opposed to Teiya." Kasahara picks up Craighead's thought process, "Basically, I have see myself as completely wronged, by my husband, by men in general, by this enlightened group. I’m trying to get what I rightfully believe is mine. I go to the extent of disowning my daughter and using her as my pawn and going too far. And reaching that point of no return of how corrupt and desire for power has made me completely evil." However, the Queen of the Night is not a completely unsympathetic character when viewed with a modern perspective. Kasahara describes her the Queen's inner motivations, "My late husband, on his death bed, gave all his power and this sevenfold circle of the sun to [Sarastro]. Because he believed [Sarastro] and [his] group, and that men in general, are the better sex. There is a huge dialogue in the original German that is generally cut down in English version, which I get, because it’s really long and breaks the flow of the whole opera. It’s really outdated and misogynistic. My husband is saying to me, I’m quoting him to my daughter,' You need to seek men’s leadership and be away with your wildly irrational womanly thinking and your duty is to men.' I don’t think she really likes it. That’s why she sings Der Hölle Rach." This seems like an understatement when this fiery coloratura aria is one of the most iconic pieces in operatic repertoire.
Magic Flute has a special place in the history with both of these singers. Craighead states that he never went into school thinking he would be an Opera singer. Nancy Hermiston cast him as the Speaker in Magic Flute before he even arrived at UBC. “I never sang a company recit. I was hooked. It’s just a classic story. This is my eighth Magic Flute now. I’ve sang most of the mens parts now. I’ve been Speaker, Priest, Armed Guard, Sarastro. I haven’t done Papageno, but it’s within the realm of possibility. I know every single word of this Opera,” he states with a depth of maturity. Magic Flute played a formative role in Kasahara’s life as well: “It was the first Opera I ever saw, but it was on film, Igmar Bergman’s1971 Swedish production. It was done in a baroque theatre and it was filmed that way. I was at the UBC’s summer music institute. I was 15. Just watching everything come together and unfold with the music. Seeing the Queen of the Night and seeing that crazy high aria. 'What if I could sing that one day?' and having those kind of dreams at an early age it kept me focused on Opera. I was first spirit at UBC. I started learning Pamina and covered it at UBC. For me, it’s always been a part of my repertoire. I just love this Opera musically. The overture, I hear it in the dressing room… those beautiful chords and just start rocking out!" she says with a laugh and a soft headbang, "It’s always going to have a special place with me because it’s what introduced me to Opera.”
Kasahara and Craighead both acknowledge the challenges of being an Opera singer and laud their networks for providing them with the foundation to continue in this business. At the core of it, it’s the music that draws them both back. Craighead notes that he loves those moments when he is in “the presence of greatness” having a front-row seat as he gets to hear singers at the top of their craft. For Kasahara, she describes the allure of what keeps drawing her back: “Those magic moments on stage where you can hear that music live coming out of the pit, emanating your voice, and everything is just synergistic. It just comes together. You feel the lights on your face. You can see your colleagues through the legs of the backstage and they’re about to come on. All those perfect moments when you just realize, ‘wow, this is all happening right now and hundreds of people came together to put this one moment together on stage.’ Time slows down but speeds up. When you can stop on stage and have that realization.”
Take a listen to the whole interview to get their thoughts on their understanding of the Opera, what they would do if they were ever able to direct the production, how they see their careers progressing, and their thoughts on who would win if the Queen of the Night and Sarastro had to have a musical face-off.
The Magic Flute opens January 31, 2015 with performances on February 3 and 5. Tickets are available online.
All photography by Nanc Price courtesy of Edmonton Opera