Performers bring African rhythm into Mozart classic


Courtesy of Isango Ensemble

The show had five performances last week

For a few days last week, ArtsEmerson brought the Isango Ensemble to perform their fresh interpretation of the classic opera written by Mozart, “The Magic Flute.”

The Isango Ensemble consists of actors from all over Cape Town, South Africa, the legislative capital. The ensemble was created in 2000 by Paulina Mealfane and Mark Dornrof-May, but the company did not put on a staged production until 2001 in Wilton’s Music Hall in London.

They have traveled all over the world to perform classic operas with a bit of a twist. Instead of being accompanied by a full orchestra, the cast plays marimbas, oil drums, trumpets and uses their hands and feet. They mix the classical melodies with lively African beats.     

When you walk into the Emerson Cutler Majestic Theatre, you see an almost bare stage with no large set pieces or extravagant backdrops. Only distressed wood creates a tilted platform so the audience can see all the actors with ease and a metal fence completely caging in the stage.

As soon as the show started the room was filled with lively marimba playing from all sides of the stage.

All of the actors faces lit up and they danced to the beats of the marimbas. Joy was emanating off the actors so much that it was clear they loved what they were doing. Actors were extremely involved throughout the entire performance, never letting their energy die down.

The main character of the show, Tamino, is a young man passing through the Queen of the Night’s realm who passes out while fighting a fire beast. Three beautiful women come to his aid, who the audience later finds out are the queen’s servants.

Courtesy of Keith Pattison
“The Magic Flute” played at the Emerson Cutler Majestic Theatre

When Tamino wakes up he meets Papageno, a bird catcher. Papageno claims that he killed the beast for Tamino, but the three women reappear and put a lock over his head because he was not truthful to Tamino. They then tell Tamino about the queen’s daughter and how she was kidnapped by Sarastro, an evil man that no one likes.

Tamino and Papageno are then sent on the quest to go find the queen’s daughter, Pamina. Tamino sings a stand out ballot about how beautiful Pamina is and how he must find her and spend the rest of his life with her. Tamino is given a magic flute to help him on his quest.

Along the way they meet a brotherhood of elders, spirits, hunters, and a priest. Insanity ensues the rest of the story, drawing laughter from the actors on stage and the people in the audience. The ensemble provides a hilarious chase scene and many energetic dance numbers that are not common in typical operas.

The entire cast soared over amazing melodies written many years ago with a modern flare. The story of Tamino and Pamina’s journey to live happily ever after was filled with unique twists and turns.