Lyric Opera’s “The Magic Flute” is a contemporary and inventive adaptation that lets the music shine
Magic Flute, a German opera by Mozart, first performed in Vienna in 1791; Mozart himself conducted the orchestra that evening.
In the more than 200 years since, the show has undoubtedly been produced in many ways, from the magical and lush to the understated and contemporary. Despite this, Lyric Opera’s current cut of a production that premiered nearly a decade ago is one of the most unique interpretations of opera, perhaps of any musical production, seen on recent memory scene. The result of a collaboration between director Barrie Kolsky and a performance group known as 1927, this version is more akin to a movie, even though the actors sing the famous tunes without amplification. The production realizes Mozart’s whimsical tale of a young prince in search of his undecorated princess, instead projecting the details of the scene onto a blank screen, non-stop animation depicting the various forests, caves and palaces where the story unfolds. It’s an intriguing approach, upsetting almost everything one expects from an opera, the elaborate staging and breathtaking costumes of a great production.
Now directed by Tobias Ribitzki and directed by Karen Kamensek (both making their lyrical debuts), the show remains as dramatic as ever. The multi-layered plot (it’s opera, after all) begins with a prince named Tamino (Pavel Petrov) rescued from a threatening serpent by three of the queen’s ladies. When they leave to tell him about the young man, a clever bird-catcher named Papageno (Huw Montague Rendall) tells Tamino that he was the one who saved the prince. As a gift for her good deed, the Queen gives Tamino a gift, a portrait of her daughter, Pamina (Ying Fang), who has been captured by the evil Sarastro (Tareq Nazmi). Immediately in love with the young woman (as happens in the opera), Tamino sets out to free Pamina from her frightening fate, helped along the way by a magic flute the ladies offer her and a set of bells they offer Papageno.
From there, the opera takes place in the form of a drama, if they (they are Tamino and Pamina) will end up happy together, with some diversions into the comic relief mark of Papageno and the menacing adventures of Monostatos ( Brenton Ryan), a boyfriend of Sarastro who is also in love with Pamina. Between the two, Pamina’s mother, the Queen of the Night (Lila Duffy) delivers one of the most famous opera arias, “Der Hölle Rache”, with its iconic coloratura (the complex and elaborate “bouncing” notes which embellish a sentence), and Sarastro plot to separate the lovers and Papageno pins to find a love like his friend Tomino.
The magic flute is usually produced with a dialogue between musical numbers; here, the production does away with all that and instead projects the exhibition and the dialogue on the screen like an interlude from a silent film. And it’s not by accident; The concept of this version of the show is deeply rooted in an early 20th century aesthetic, from simple costumes to animation that evokes a bit of the Industrial Revolution with a hint of steampunk. In fact, the original creative team acknowledges that they not only chose to shift the focus of the show to the charming Papageno, but sought to create some sort of homage to Buster Keaton through him, all physical comedy and sidelong glances towards the audience. . So it shows that one of the most delightful scenes in the series comes at the end of Act II when Papageno finally finds someone to settle down with, dreaming of the lively house they’ll set up once they get there. ‘they will have started their life together (“Pa-Pa-Pa-“). It’s a game and a half, with clever animations behind the actors creating a sense of joyous chaos that would be difficult (maybe impossible) to achieve on stage.
In the end, what stands out most in this inventive interpretation of The magic flute is, perhaps as it should be, the voices. As Queen of the Night, Duffy has little else to do but sing; she is mounted on an all-white pedestal, her imposing spider arms being nothing more than a projection onto the massive stage. The actors do well enough to act with and around the screenings, but Duffy’s performance is particularly noteworthy simply because it is so focused on his voice. By removing all the bells and whistles (and flutes?) From traditional opera productions, creators Kolsky and 1927 actually ensured that the production received what was most important: the music.