Mario and the Magician
Mario and the Magician. Three-act, three-hour opera composed by Harry Somers, on a 1988 commission from the COC. The lyrics are by Rod Anderson. The first full-length mainstage opera premiered by the COC since 1973, it received its world premiere 19 May 1992 at the Elgin Theatre, Toronto, and was the first full-length opera produced at that theatre. The first run consisted of six performances, ending 30 May. The US tenor David Rampy played Cipolla, the magician; Theodore Baerg was Stefan; Benoit Boutet was Mario; Marcia Swanston played Martha. There were 36 individual roles, including children; some members played more than one character and did duty in the chorus. Richard Bradshaw conducted, and Robert Carsen directed. The designer was Michael Levine.
Mario and the Magician is an adaptation of Thomas Mann's 1929 novella Mario und der Zauberer. It is an allegorical tale set in Munich and a seaside hotel in the Italy of Mussolini's time, and is loosely based on an incident observed by Mann while on vacation. It opens with a narrator, Stefan (representing Mann), giving a talk in Munich in 1929 on the threat of fascism. The domineering and contemptuous character Cipollo symbolizes Mussolini's power over the Italian people; the tricks he hypnotizes his audiences to act out force us to question standards of decent behaviour, and the nature of free will. The waiter, Mario, shoots the hypnotist in anguish over the embarrassing acts he has been hypnotized into performing. About the sinister theme, Somers said, 'I acknowledge the Cipolla in all of us' (Financial Post).
The opera features frequent changes of metre and intricate rhythms. The score also employs sustained pitches, manipulated in various ways; recurring motifs that are closely associated with the events on stage; contrasting musical and vocal styles; and a Stravinskian irony. The use of accordion evokes the Italian setting. The opera is sung mostly in English, with some Italian.
The CBC taped the opera for rebroadcast in October 1992. Although by 2001 the opera had not been fully restaged, the 1997 New Music Festival in Winnipeg featured some of the music in concert. This was Somers' last opera.