Why The Night Queen?
The Night Queen: A New Music-Theatre Play Inspired by The Magic Flute
There is great potency in Mozart’s The Magic Flute. The music is joyous. The characters are compelling. Elements of the story are mythic.
In the wonderfully dramatic music we have an appealing range of expression: high emotion (as in The Night Queen’s arias), tenderness (often with Pamina) and cheerful folksy melodies (such as Papageno’s song), together with colourful sequences and stately interludes.
In the characters we have: the alluring, powerful yet dangerous female (The Night Queen herself), the innocent protagonist (Pamina, the young girl), the naïve yet mostly likeable companion (in our version, the bird Popinjay) and the authority/father figure who is both challenged and challenging (Zorastro).
In the story we have: the idea of a quest, the rivalry over a powerful possession, the testing of loyalty and judgement, the exploration of responsibility and friendship.
There are many parallels to and echoes of these elements both in life and in stories from that day to this.
However, the story itself is complex and problematic and some of the values it (arguably) espouses sit uncomfortably in today’s world: the subordinate role of the woman, the paternalism, the appeal to unchallenged tradition and unaccountable organisations.
We wished to use the original story to create a new piece of work that pays homage to its source without simply being another version of it.
We wanted to capture the mystical power and musical strength of the original, using it as a spring-board into developing our own story; opening up themes, thoughts, anxieties and hopes that are relevant to children and parents today.
The Night Queen has operatic elements, but is very much a music theatre piece. There is music throughout, adapted and reworked, both underscoring the action and also sung. We wanted to occupy the space, both artistic and in terms of audience, between high opera and popular theatre. We used elements of both to create a piece that we hope is artistically challenging yet easy to enjoy. We wanted to create a work for young people that is appealing and stretching – making us feel deeply and think carefully.
Our version centres on young Pamina. The girl takes up the quest to find the magic orb and so, in our version, becomes the protagonist. She is the author of her own destiny (rather than merely a marital prize). Her family is complex – she lives with her father, Zorastro, but she longs to be in the dangerous forest and dangerous company of her mother, the Night Queen.
Many elements of our story were developed through creative engagement with a Birmingham Primary School (through the ACE-funded project Encounters With The Night Queen). Working with a range of practitioners, we used drama, music, writing and art to explore the ideas and content of the play. The themes and issues identified by the children are clearly close to their hearts, yet explored in a safe way, as myth.
From those early shoots the play grew and branched out and developed into a fully-formed theatre piece. We are very proud of it and thank all the people who have worked on it and hope it has been memorable for those who have interacted with it – the play itslef and also the activities that have sheltered under its branches.
Okay, maybe we’re getting a bit carried away, but I hope there’s at least some sense of the thinking behind what we’ve been trying to do!