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

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by Barry Creyton on November 4, 2019

in Music,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. In 2016, it returned just as magical as it was the first time. Now, it returns to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion starting Saturday, November 16, 2019, and then playing for six performances only. The original creators, Suzanne Andrade and Barrie Kosky, not only present 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 (this time directed Tobias Ribitzki). 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 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, so the cast vigorously dashes from one spot to another, with some running in place as well. The whimsical quirkiness actually pulls out the magic and beauty of the music.

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 (Theo Hoffman), 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 (the astounding soprano So Young Park returns) is now a gargantuan, fuming spider, her energetic legs spreading out over the entire wall. The great Italian basso cantabile Ildebrando D’Arcangelo plays 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.

Russian tenor Bogdan Volkov (Nov 16-Dec 1), who makes his LAO debut, and Joshua Wheeker (Dec 12-15) — an alumnus of LAO’s Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program — play 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). Czech soprano Zuzana Marková makes her LAO 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.

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.

With live orchestra led by Music Director James Conlon (November 16-23) and by Resident Conductor Grant Gershon (December 1-15), This amazing version disappears December 15, 2019. 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 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.

The Magic Flute
1927 Theater Company
presented by Los Angeles Opera
at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
Saturday, November 16, 2019 at 7:30
Thursday, November 21, 2019 at 7:30 (Newcomer Night)
Saturday, November 23, 2019 at 7:30 (Aria Under 40; Hispanics Night)
Sunday, December 1, 2019 at 2 (Family Day)
Thursday, December 12, 2019 at 7:30
Sunday, December 15, 2019 at 2
for tickets, call 213.972.8001 or visit LA Opera

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