Preview | The show must go on: Putting on an opera in the shadow of COVID-19

“Die Zauberflote” is UA Opera Theatre’s first performance of the semester

Despite a year of pandemic-related struggle in the live theatre industry, The University of Alabama’s Opera Theatre department has found ways to safely put art into the world. 

“Die Zauberflöte” (The Magic Flute) is the first performance of the UA Opera Theatre Department’s spring season. The two-act singspiel by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart walks the audience through an enchanted fairytale chock-full of cunning snakes, hearty adventure and dazzling romance. 

“It is essentially about the search for truth and wisdom with some adventure along the way,” said Paul Houghtaling, producer and director of “Die Zauberflöte.” “Two young men are looking for love. They become friends and they’re on a journey together that puts them through some mystical trials…At the end of it, truth and righteousness and honor win the day.”

Due to the strict social distancing guidelines put in place by The University of Alabama, many core aspects of the show such as auditions, costume fittings and tech rehearsals have all been changed and challenged. Things like mask-wearing, strictly-limited rehearsal spaces, isolation between cast and crew members are now commonplace.

Houghtaling, a professor at The University of Alabama and highly-decorated opera performer, expressed undeniable passion and enthusiasm about the show despite the challenges that have blanketed the department due to COVID-19. 

What: Livestreamed performance of W.A Mozart’s “Die Zauberflöte”

Who: The event is open to all. 

When: February 25  and 26 at 7 p.m. CT

Where: The University of Alabama Opera’s Facebook Page via Facebook Live

He explained how being involved in nearly twenty different productions of “Die Zauberflöte” during his professional career helped his creative process.

“I’m so familiar with this opera, which has really helped,” Houghtaling said. “Because I am so familiar with this piece, with the music, with the characters and with the story, it has made it a lot easier for me to work in the way that we’ve had to work… It felt like a comfortable, familiar old friend that I was seeing through a new lens.”

And while there are some aspects of live theatre that just won’t be able to be conveyed via livestream, it’s the students’ experiences, both onstage and off, that truly matter the most.

“Livestream will never, ever take the place of being there,” Houghtaling said. “There are certainly a small handful of us in the house running the cameras and the lights, so there is a little bit of laughter, a smattering of applause here and there, but it will never be the same as working in front of a live audience.”

Houghtaling emphasized that, in spite of everything, this was about the students. 

“They will still be performing their roles, even if it’s to an empty theatre,” he said. “It still gives them the learning experience [and] the opportunity to experience this beautiful piece by Mozart.”

He said while livestreaming isn’t ideal, it’s the current reality we are in. 

“The show has to go on, one way or another,” he said, describing the situation as a win-win. “We’re offering a good experience to the students… which is what the program is about, and we’re also able to still offer something to the community.”

Houghtaling made it clear that he refuses to view his time with “Die Zauberflöte” in a negative light, going on to highlight what he believes to be the most important silver lining of all.

“Ordinarily, if we were doing this live, we still might have live streamed, but not as elaborately,” Houghtaling said. “But now, students from all over the country, their family and friends, can tune in. We hope the people that tune in can still enjoy the story and the work that the students have put into it in these crazy times.”

The cast and crew of the University’s “Die Zauberflöte” plan on telling a story worth listening to as they express the overpowering themes of love and truth to the audience, all while gaining valuable operatic experience. 

To watch both livestreamed productions of “Die Zauberflöte,” tune in to UA Opera’s Facebook live here.