I have always loved the theatre – from my first broadway show (Cats) when I was just a child to being onstage myself many times (at school, at camp, and in karaoke bars on three continents since you’re well aware by now that I’m a closet broadway star).
Sharing the drama, the costumes and the music of the theatre with my kids is important to me. I think our country is sorely lacking when it comes to mandatory arts education and we as parents need to do everything we can to expose our children to galleries, performances and concerts – and from a young age – to help them learn to appreciate the arts.
This doesn’t even have to be about only serious art forms; even a Wiggles concert counts in my opinion.
I have fond memories of Casa Loma as a little girl. The long and winding staircases, the larger-than-life rooms, the dark corners to explore. I think I was six years old the first time my parents took me. I had a bowl cut and was missing at least one front tooth. And I remember sketches of that day in my mind very clearly. So when Opera Atelier invited my family to visit Mozart’s Magical Castle, a limited-time installation of The Magic Flute at Casa Loma, I jumped at the opportunity.
This partnership installation runs until December 30, 2012, but please check the engagement’s dates as it’s not open every single day. And you can later revisit the characters you meet at Casa Loma when Opera Atelier’s production of The Magic Flute is on from April 6 to 13, 2012.
I made the decision to take The K Man on a mommy-and-son date, leaving Miss Q and Big B at home – and thank goodness we did. There’s a lot to see, and a lot of hustle and bustle in every part of the castle. Here’s an incomplete list of everything you can do when you visit Mozart’s Magical Castle, but what we managed to take in during our 3.5-hour visit:
- We completed the scavenger hunt, which provides The Magic Flute-themed clues to find eight signposts throughout every floor and wing of Casa Loma, with stamps to prove you found each one
- We visited Santa (our fifth Santa this season), where you’re welcome to take your own photos or pay to have one taken
- We met the very corseted The Queen of the Night, who asked The K Man in character, continually, if he’d seen her daughter, Pamina
- We found a secret stairwell up to the second floor – The K Man thought that was pretty cool, even if it had nothing to do with Opera Atelier’s installation
- We made a one-of-a-kind scale to add to Bruce the dragon‘s “skin” – this has to be one of the most creative and interesting parts of the whole exhibit. Great hands-on interaction
- We watched a snapshot performance of The Magic Flute in the library. While The K Man was pretty hesitant to sit and wait for the performance to begin, I bribed him with a
snack and it was ultimately his favourite part of our visit (even if the floor seating was so cramped that I could barely walk for 10 minutes after it finished because my legs totally fell asleep)
- We looked at one of the biggest and most beautiful Christmas trees either of us has ever seen, spanning the height of two castle floors
- We learned a bit about the financier and military officer who built Casa Loma (for the equivalent of $3.5 million at the time) and the misfortune that befell him – The K Man, surprisingly, found a lot of the historical stories fascinating and asked lots of questions about Sir Henry Pellatt
- We stepped inside many of the castle’s rooms, which are preserved with such great care and are currently decorated for the holidays
- We turned a shiny Canadian penny into a flattened shiny oval stamped with the image of a guard and the words “Casa Loma” above his head using one of those crank machines (at an extra cost of $1)
- We had lunch in the cellar, and the food was really yummy (I had the grilled Mediterranean veggie wrap with lemon aoli and The K Man was treated to a hot dog and fries)
There are a lot of stairs. So aside from your little one tiring from all the stair-climbing, you can also forget about bringing your stroller. Mind you, there were some strollers there – and some spotted on the second floor at that – but the access is very limited. There’s one tiny employee-operated elevator of which I never saw anyone coming in or going out. And the stairwells are, for the most part, very narrow. So do yourself a favour and don’t bring a stroller. If you have a younger child who doesn’t yet walk and is unable to navigate stairs comfortably, bring a baby carrier. On that note, if you can leave babies and toddlers at home, do so. Mozart’s Magical Castle is really geared more toward bigger kids – age four and up.
The Queen of the Night is bloody scary. She’s just a wee thing – no more than maybe 5’4″ at best – but dang! She’s a fine actress and has a strong voice under her heaving bodice. When she came out during the performance we watched, she yelled “SILENCE!” to the audience. Well, that scared the bejeezus out of two twin girls directly across from us. They were perhaps 2.5 or 3 years old and one buried her face in her mother’s chest and started sobbing uncontrollably while her sister did one of those silent cries. That is, until the silent part of the cry ran out and it was a full-blown ugly cry. I appreciated that her mother had the courtesy to take them out of the library, but it was too bad that they were so terrified.
The cost of food onsite is over the top. For one wrap, hot dog and fries and two small milks, our lunch came to a whopping $19.20. As I walked past the beverage fridge, I noticed that 500 mL Dole juices were $3.50. I do expect to pay premium prices for food at places like this, but it seemed extra-pricey to me. You can certainly bring your own lunch and snacks, but you will be relegated to hallway seating, as the cafe seating is just for patrons.
The first thing we did upon arrival was hit the loo. There was a young mom changing her baby boy between sinks because there were no change tables. There’s definitely room in the handicapped stall to accommodate a change table, so I hope Casa Loma installs one.
Some elements of Mozart’s Magical Castle are an extra charge. Now, for something like a gingerbread workshop, where your child gets to make a full-sized gingerbread house with elves, or for breakfast with Santa, an extra charge is acceptable. But to ask castle-goers to shell out an extra $2 for a guided tour or $5 for a dance workshop following a performance seems a bit of a money-grab to me. After a family of four has forked over nearly $60 for admission, little extras like this are irritating.