Los Angeles Opera Preview: THE MAGIC FLUTE (Los Angeles Opera at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion)

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by Tony Frankel on February 6, 2016

in Theater-Los Angeles


In 2013, a new production of The Magic Flute from Berlin’s Komische Oper became a sell-out sensation, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera. Now, it returns to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion starting Saturday, February 13, and then playing for six performances only. Directors Suzanne Andrade and Barrie Kosky not only present the visuals like a silent film replete with animation, but have reconfigured the often tedious spoken dialogue with projected titles of text that mimic placards from live-action silent movies. The results—colorful, clever, and quite gorgeous—make this technologically daring wonderment a cross between an opera and the gag cartoons of the 1920s. It is also the guaranteed must-see opera of the year.

The Three Ladies (Hae Ji Chang, Cassandra Zoe Velasco, Peabody Southwell) in THE MAGIC FLUTE, 1927 at LA Opera.

Created by the British theater collective “1927” (named after the year of The Jazz Singer’s release), animation designer Paul Barritt—who leads the company with Andrade—clearly draws from filmmaker Georges Méliès, German Expressionism, Terry Gilliam’s Monty Python’s Flying Circus animations, and the work of Ub Iwerks, who singlehandedly drew the first Mickey Mouse cartoons. Barritt mimics the naïve style of 1920’s cinema, opting for line drawings over realism, and actors interact with the graphics, which are projected onto a flattened wide screen (there are no set pieces, just revolving doors and ledges). The whimsical quirkiness actually pulls out the magic and beauty of the music.

The two armored men (Valentin Anikin, left, Vladimir Dmitruk, right) escort Tamino (Lawrence Brownlee, center) to his trials in THE MAGIC FLUTE, 1927 at LA Opera.

Normally, I can’t stand when opera singers just stand and deliver. For once, I was overjoyed that the singers at hand did not move because the animation did the moving for them (to be fair, the cast vigorously dashed from one spot to another, and some had to run in place as well).

The Queen of the Night (Erika Miklosa, top) urges Tamino (Lawrence Brownlee) to rescue her daughter in THE MAGIC FLUTE, 1927 at LA Opera.

Papageno (a returning Jonathan Michie), the bird-catcher, is now a Buster Keaton-type clown who is tailed by an angular black feline, reminiscent of George Herriman’s comic-strip, Krazy Kat. The Queen of the Night (who will be played by astounding soprano So Young Park) is now a gargantuan, fuming spider, her energetic legs spreading out over the entire wall. German bass Wilhelm Schwinghammer is making his company debut as wise Sarastro, who now appears as a fin de siècle Jules Verne in black top hat, gloves and frock coat.

Rodion Pogossov as Papageno in a scene from THE MAGIC FLUTE, 1927 at LA Opera.

Tenor Ben Bliss (an alumnus of LA Opera’s Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program) plays Prince Tamino, who appears in whiteface and a tuxedo. A highlight is when he is actually swallowed by a dragon and ends up surrounded by bones in its stomach (I also loved when he declared his love for the princess Pamina, and anatomically correct hearts fluttered across the screen). Marita Sølberg makes her company debut as Pamina, who will be dressed in a black Victorian gown and a Louise Brooks bob.

Papageno (Rodion Pogossov) meets his Papagena (Amanda Woodbury) in THE MAGIC FLUTE, 1927 at LA Opera.

Mozart’s accessible music is among the most popular in the repertoire; it’s youthfully melodious yet stretches for transcendent classicism. Emmanuel Schikaneder’s libretto (known as Singspiel), has characters talking as well as singing; he interchanges a fairy-tale journey right out of Disney (or German make-believe á la the Brothers Grimm) with dark Masonic rituals (there are Three Ladies, Three Boys and Three Trials), devout religious allusions, and comical frolics right out of an 18th-century Viennese puppet show. This is why the truly spectacular animated manifestations are more than appropriate here.

This amazing version, conducted by James Conlon (the chorus director is Grant Gershon), disappears March 6 2016. The Magic Flute is the perfect introductory opera for your kids, too. This endlessly innovative production is jam-packed with surprising and funny moments. And, yes, the flute, now an animated naked sprite, is as magic as the title suggests.

Monostatos (Rodell Rosel) torments Pamina (Janai Brugger) in THE MAGIC FLUTE, 1927 at LA Opera.

photos by Robert Millard

The Three Ladies (Hae Ji Chang, Cassandra Zoe Velasco, Peabody Southwell) rescue Tamino (Lawrence Brownlee, at lower left) in THE MAGIC FLUTE, 1927 at LA Opera.

The Magic Flute
1927 Theater Company
presented by Los Angeles Opera
at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
•    Saturday, February 13, 2016, at 7:30
•    Saturday, February 20, 2016, at 7:30
•    Wednesday, February 24, 2016, at 7:30
•    Sunday, February 28, 2016, at 2
•    Wednesday, March 2, 2016, at 7:30
•    Sunday, March 6, 2016, at 2
for tickets, call 213.972.8001 or visit LA Opera

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