If your ghosts can't fly, lace them up in roller skates. At least that's what Carl Gerbrandt decided as stage director for the Opera Theatre of the Rockies' upcoming performance of The Magic Flute.
"I thought about flying them in from the ceiling above, but that's a very costly endeavor, in a budget situation," Gerbrandt says. "I guess I could have used bicycles or Rollerblades or any number of things to kind of take them out of reality, but at the same time give them some entertainment value. We decided on roller skates."
Admittedly, it's not what Mozart would have expected back in 1791, when he wrote the two-act opera that tells the story of a prince who faces many trials (and is assisted by a bird-man creature) in seeking love. Nor would Mozart have anticipated the serpent in his opening scene as being 25 feet long, filled with air and operated by a backstage blower.
But purists may rest assured: The epic story is in good hands.
In January, the National Opera Association awarded Gerbrandt its Lifetime Achievement Award. The 69-year-old Weld County resident has authored a book that's become considered an authority on sacred operas and is professor emeritus at the University of Northern Colorado School of Music, where he directed the opera theater program for 21 years.
He says he really didn't become seriously interested in opera until he was working on his master's degree, although in some ways he thinks there was something about the musical form that sunk in much earlier.
"My mother, bless her heart — you have to understand my parents were both born in Russia and brought with them that European culture, I suppose, to a certain extent — but my mom loved opera," he says. "Every Saturday she, and she alone in the family, would listen to the Metropolitan Opera broadcast. And the rest of us would make fun of her. But there must have been something about that, that soaked in way back when I was a little kid and came to the fore later on."
Today, Gerbrandt seems to enjoy the challenge of working with an extremely complex opera like The Magic Flute — he likens its plot to that of a soap opera. And even with his 40-some choruspeople and dozen solo singers, and all the skating spirits and magic tricks, he knows the opera's relevance and accessibility are thanks mostly to the writing itself.
"Those of us in the classical arena just continue to be amazed, in spite of the fact that we've been doing these operas for 200 years, that they are so relevant and so brilliant," he says. "A mind like Mozart's comes along once every hundred years."
Mozart's work on The Magic Flute stands out, he adds, because while it was born in the Classical period, it looked forward to the Romantic period of composers such as Beethoven and Schumann.
"It is an opera that straddles two periods of time, yet came from the pen of one composer," Gerbrandt says. "It's an intriguing opera in every way: dramatically, musically, theatrically. It just isn't going to die."