If you think opera is all fat ladies screeching in Viking helmets, then a celebrated production of Mozart’s Magic Flute is coming to town which might just change your mind.
Komische Oper Berlin developed the production in collaboration with British theater company 1927, and over the last five years it has attracted rave reviews around the world. The Los Angeles Times described it as “a stunning live-action cartoon, so bewitching as to silence every criticism.”
The staging mixes animation with traditional theater, and an aesthetic inspired by German Expressionist cinema of the 1920s. The bird-catcher Papageno becomes a Buster Keaton-esque clown, and the Queen of the Night is a giant spider. The spoken dialogue is omitted; instead the cast freeze in place while text is projected in the style of silent move intertitles.
It’s a bold take on a well-worn classic – though The Magic Flute was always an oddity within the opera repertoire. Mozart had a hand in writing its fairytale story which, in the words of A Short History of Opera, “ranges all the way from buffoonery to high solemnity, from childish faerie to sublime human aspiration.” There are also allusions to Mozart’s Masonic beliefs.
The story is not universally admired – one critic called it “one of the most absurd specimens of that form of literature in which absurdity is regarded as matter of course” – but the music is much loved. Even opera skeptics will probably recognize the Queen of the Night’s aria, a thrilling display of technically challenging vocal fireworks, including an absurdly high note which few singers can manage.
With its visual magic and tale of adventure, this Magic Flute would make a great introduction to opera for children old enough to sit through its 160 minutes. The production plays at the Tianqiao Performing Arts Center from July 21-23, but is likely to sell out quickly, so early booking is advised.