When Mozart composed The Magic Flute in Vienna in 1791, he hoped it would become as popular as he thought it should. It did.
First it conquered Vienna, then the other great cities of Europe fell to its enchanting mix of singing, dancing and fairy-tale plot.
Not long ago, a grade schooler in Cape Town, South Africa, returned home after having seen a student production and vented enthusiastically to his mother that her troupe Isango Ensemble should try it on. They did. And we were lucky enough to be at its performance at Emerson’s Cutler Majestic Theatre on opening night.
Isango, an all-black troupe, has inherited tribal traditions rich in dancing, singing, magic and shrewd psychology that are more than a match to communicate the nuances of “The Magic Flute,” conceived in Europe of universals that strike the heart and mind globally.
The costumes are minimal, richly African, and above all, athletically cut, allowing the musicians to both caress their wooden marimbas with a light pitter-patter as well as fall upon them from arm length height to build swelling crescendos.
Also, the musicians leap onto the stage to swell the dancing. Why waste a good musician/dancer when there’s a lull in the music?
There is an intermission, but it seems grudging, since Mozart built “The Magic Flute” full of action, pauses pulsing with undercurrents, threaded with beautiful singing, rapier sharp commands and counter commands.
Just outside, on Tremont Street, Boston is filled with urgent traffic blowing incessant horns at laggards. Emerging from the theater, still full of the tailored excitement so artfully stirred up by assorted queens, wizards, dragons and a smattering of spirits, we hardly heard the cacophony, so real and lasting was the fairy world of the stage.
(Arts Emerson’s encore presentation of “An Aliad” takes place on November 20 through 24 at the Emerson Paramount Center, Robert J. Orchard Stage, 559 Washington St., Boston, Massachusetts. For more information, call (617) 824-8400 or visit ArtsEmerson.org.)