Piecing together Mozart:

Ishmael Hope stars as the Austrian composer in Joyce Parry Moore's 'Mozart Reimagined'

Posted: Thursday, March 03, 2005

Years ago when she was living in New York City, Opera to GO! founder Joyce Parry Moore would attend the annual Mostly Mozart Festival, a month-long tribute to the Austrian composer and some of his peers. She considers her latest project, "Mozart Reimagined," an homage of the same sort.

Moore wrote the opera over the last year and a half, based on scenes from four of his later works: "The Magic Flute," "The Abduction from the Seraglio," "Don Giovanni" and "The Marriage of Figaro."

The work stars Mozart himself, played by Ishmael Hope, wandering through his works, interacting with the characters and grasping existentially with his place in the world. It opens at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 3, with a free preview at McPhetres Hall. It's intended to coincide with the Juneau Symphony's upcoming choral presentation of Mozart's "Requiem," April 8-9 at the Juneau-Douglas High School auditorium.

"I believe Mozart is the quintessential artist in a way," Moore said. "He's kind of dwelling between worlds. His music is both very structured and very playful. At the time he wrote it, he really pushed the envelope of what was being done then. He dared to imagine new things and new forms.

"It's given me a very humble feeling to be doing this, and it's a nice preparation for the 'Requiem,' which many consider to be his most mature work."

"Reimagined" runs at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, March 10 and 17, and 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, March 4-5, 11-12 and 18-19.

Advance tickets are $15 for general, and $10 for students and seniors at Hearthside Books. Door tickets are $2 more. The show on March 10 will include a special student discount price. The St. Patrick's Day show on March 17 will be preceded by an Irish tenor performance by Brett Crawford.

"Reimagined" attempts to juxtapose the four different works in order to shed some insight on Mozart's inner story. The opera catches him late in his life, at a point where he had written almost everything except "Requiem." He was convinced "Requiem" would kill him, and in fact, he died before it was complete. He lived just 35 years, 1756-1791.

"The characters he was creating I believe reflect a little bit of his own life," Moore said. "By having a narrative between the scenes, it's a way of Mozart sort of questioning and reflecting on his own work and himself and his place. In discussion with artists, especially with people who are creating new works, there's often talk about bridging the gap between what is the interpretive and what is the creative. This piece does that in a way."

Mozart wrote the four operas in the story after he moved to Vienna in 1781. Moore purposely did not include "Cosi fan tutte," which Opera to GO! tackled a few years ago, or "La clemenza di Tito," one of his lesser-known works.

"The Magic Flute" and "The Abduction" are paired in Act 1. Both are singspiel operas, a German operetta with spoken dialogue. "Don Giovanni" and "The Marriage of Figaro" are so-called Da Ponte operas, named after Lorenzo Da Ponte, who helped Mozart with the librettos.

"As Mozart asks these questions and gets closer to the answers, he explores the idea of retribution for sins, hope and forgiveness," Moore said. "All those things, when you listen to his 'Requiem,' were very important issues for him, especially toward the end of his life."

The cast's research included a look at the architecture of opera and the principles of Bauhaus, another brief, but heavily influential movement. Moore asked local sculptor Dylan Quigley to create a series of set shapes that can be taken apart and re-assembled into different landscapes.

"Each of the shapes has its own life," Moore said. "It gets moved around and used as various things, which is another Bauhaus idea, the meeting of form and function. It seems to resonate with Mozart, who was turning shapes over in his mind and creating new shapes."

Moore's vision of the play was also influenced by Bauhaus artist Paul Klee, one of her favorite painters.

"He was very influenced by Mozart because of the way Mozart juxtaposed form and playfulness," Moore said. "Mozart's music has that classical structure, and then he begins to take that form and play around with it. He has this great sense of humor, and he writes really well dramatically.

"The other thing about Mozart that makes it good for learning is that he repeats text," she said. "What happens is that singers get the idea of looking for the meaning behind the text, and that's when their acting can really begin to blossom."

Moore asked Ishmael Hope in November to play Mozart. A Juneau actor and storyteller, Hope is not a singer and does not come from a musical background.

"I wanted Mozart to be someone unexpected, and someone maybe from a different culture," Moore said. "It's interesting to think that Mozart, when he began writing the operas that are shown, would have been about Ishmael's age."

"I guess I was picked to do this part to really make people feel invited into the role of Mozart," Hope said. "I like to think that's one of the things I do. I try to make things accessible but not to dumb it down."

Hope knew Mozart through sound clips of his work, and was vaguely familiar with the story of his life from reading Soren Kierkegaard's "Either Or."

"I've come to relate a lot to Mozart, in the course of learning about him," Hope said. "Even when he was creating operas, opera was sort of becoming stiff and too traditional. Mozart really broke through that. He took on the traditions and made it new and fresh, and of course, that's why he's relevant today. You still hear these wild turns and surprise to the music."

• Korry Keeker can be reached at korry.keeker@juneauempire.com

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