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SCOTT SIMON, host: Peter Brook, the legendary British stage director has made a career of deconstructing and reinventing classics. He rearranged to the soliloquies in Shakespeare's "Hamlet." He cut the chorus in Bizet's "Carmen," set in the bullring. Now, Mr. Brook is taking on, maybe taking down, one of Mozart's best loved works, "The Magic Flute."

Jeff Lunden has more.

JEFF LUNDEN: What attracted Peter Brook, at age 86, to direct "The Magic Flute?"

PETER BROOK: You can't say what attracts you to "The Magic Flute." It's like saying what attracts you to go to Egypt and look at the pyramids and the Sphinx. "The Magic Flute" is one of the works that's beyond being attracted or not - it is.

LUNDEN: But that's not to say that Peter Brook and his collaborators, composer Franck Krawczyk and librettist Marie-Helene Estienne, haven't taken liberties. In their free adaptation, called "A Magic Flute," you won't hear this...


LUNDEN: Or this...


LUNDEN: Or this...


LUNDEN: But you will hear this.


LUNDEN: Peter Brook says they wanted to somehow find the essence of what Mozart and his collaborator, actor and theater impresario Emanuel Schikaneder were getting at, stripping away the embellishments that others have added over the centuries.

BROOK: All sorts of junk, garbage, brilliant ideas, theories that have taken us away from the quality - the pure quality - of Schikaneder and the vast unbelievable quality, unique quality of Mozart, always. And more so than ever, in his last work, "The Magic Flute."


BROOK: We saw some characters are no longer necessary. And, in taking away these characters and taking away some of the necessary decorations of the music and story of the time, we find that Schikaneder was writing a beautifully pure story.

LUNDEN: A beautifully pure story about true love finding its way through trials and tribulations and, yes, magic. Peter Brook points out that while "The Magic Flute" is now staged in opera houses around the world, it came from a very different place: With its spoken dialogue, it was more like an 18th century musical.

BROOK: Now, Schikaneder was a practical man with a little popular theater. It wasn't a grand opera. And so Mozart said at once, I would love to come and work with you, but we won't call it an opera, we'll call it a singspiel, a sung play. So that, at once, liberated it from every grand opera or major opera house tradition.


LUNDEN: And Brook and his collaborators have liberated it even further. Instead of a large cast, there are seven singers and two actors who serve kind of as stagehands and magicians. Instead of elaborate sets - the 1791 original was an extravaganza which featured a working waterfall - here the stage is bare, save for a couple dozen bamboo sticks. And instead of an orchestra, just one piano. Franck Krawczyk not only adapted the score, but plays it on stage.

FRANCK KRAWCZYK: (Foreign language spoken) (Through Translator) And for us, having the piano as the sole instrument on this performance, it enables us to bring together, in a way, all of those instruments, without having to bear in mind we have baroque instruments here, we have specific instruments there. (Foreign language spoken)


KRAWCZYK: (Through Translator) The piano is the orchestra of all orchestras.


LUNDEN: Both Mozart and Schikaneder were filled with the ideals of the Enlightenment and the human potential for good. Peter Brook says "The Magic Flute" provides a tonic for our age, which he says has become coarser and coarser.

BROOK: Through that it is possible for us, for a brief moment, to have hope within ourselves for the human condition, for the human possibility, to be irrigated, refreshed and nourished through Mozart and Schikaneder.

LUNDEN: "A Magic Flute" is playing in New York at the Lincoln Center Festival through July 17th.

For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in New York.

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