High Spirits

Julie Taymor’s vibrant production of The Magic Flute—with its dazzling scenery, larger-than-life puppetry, and fun, accessible story—has been a festive, family hit in its abridged English language version ever since its 2006 premiere, becoming a beloved New York City holiday tradition. But when it comes to Mozart’s magical and moving fairy tale, the many children enjoying the show from the audience aren’t the only youngsters in the house. By Jonathan Minnick

The Met Children’s Chorus, led by director Anthony Piccolo, plays an especially important part in The Magic Flute, with three of its members serving as the trio of mystical Spirits—voiced high, middle, and low—who guide the noble Prince Tamino and the birdbrained bird catcher Papageno in their quest to rescue Pamina, the brave and beautiful daughter of the Queen of the Night. The Spirits are an unforgettable part of the show from the moment of their dramatic entrance, floating in high above stage right, suspended from wires beneath some of the production’s magical bird puppets and singing in three-part harmony as they soar over the colorful scenery below.

Members of the 65-strong Met Children’s Chorus audition each year to earn the privilege of performing as the Spirits, which are among the most prominent and well-known roles for children in the operatic repertory. Brothers Jesse and Casey Schopflocher, 16 and 14, have been members of the chorus for a combined 12 years, and they say performing as Spirits has been one of the highlights of their time with the Met. Casey has appeared in The Magic Flute three times (2018, 2019, and 2021) and especially enjoys “being a part of a production that’s so over-the-top,” and feeling that he’s “part of the story and living in the opera.” His older brother Jesse was an understudy Spirit in 2016 and sang the role for the first time in 2017, then was an understudy for Casey in last season’s production.

For Jesse and Casey, the Spirits’ flying scene was both challenging and intimidating at first, but they grew to love their high-wire moment in the spotlight. “It is nerve-wracking because you’re so high up in the air and you have to position your body in just the right way, and sing on top of that,” Casey says, “but Jesse got me pumped up and excited to do it.” Jesse says that after the extensive rehearsal process, he was ready to take to the sky, and “by the night of the first performance, I was more excited than nervous!”

The Spirits singing to Papageno

The spectacular flying entrance is just one part of the Spirits’ role, which also includes the presentation of the flute and bells to Tamino and Papageno as they enter Sarastro’s dwelling. This scene provides a new, multi-layered challenge for the Spirits as they perform intricate choreography and dramatic acting, while handling props and continuing to sing in pitch-perfect harmony. Later in the opera, as they save Papageno from his death and encourage him to play the bells, revealing the young Papagena, the Spirits are given another physical challenge, balancing on the shoulders of actors while singing. Despite the tall tasks and lofty standards expected of the members of his chorus, Piccolo has learned not to be surprised at what they accomplish. “Don’t underestimate these children,” he says. “They’re very resilient, highly talented, and always eager to perform.”

With the house sure to be filled with families this December, Casey remembers fondly what it was like to perform in front of such a warm, appreciative crowd. “It’s extra exciting to perform for this audience,” he says. “Kids are so enthusiastic. They cheer on Tamino and laugh at Papageno.” He even had the chance to feel like a true Met star when some of them came to the stage door to meet him after performances. He hopes The Magic Flute has a lasting impact on these young audiences. “It feels amazing to be introducing opera to a new generation,” he says. Both brothers are now in high school and considering their next steps in their musical journeys, but Jesse has a few words of inspiration for the children in the audience who might want to take the Met stage themselves one day: “See as many operas as you can and listen to the music beforehand. Watching an opera is a much different experience when you know the music. And join a chorus! You’ll learn how to sing properly—and meet a lot of great people, too.” 

The Magic Flute is on stage December 8–30, with special holiday pricing.