I figure, turn-about is fair play. LAOpera is, once again, mounting the startling production of Komische Opera’s Magic Flute. I raved about it in December 2015, and stick by my opinions, many of which are re-iterated below. My issue is with LAOpera’s decision to re-run this production, no matter how creative, so soon in their schedule. But read on, please. It is a stunning production; my beef is why so soon again?:
A credit for animation on an opera review? It must be a misprint. It is not? Really? Yup. The stage set is 99% a flat white wall with a few flush doors you might not notice at first; . Against this wall is projected an entire evening of some of the most engaging, seemingly hand-drawn animation ever. The singers — “Magic Flute” is an opera so there must be singers — synchronize their movements almost flawlessly to the animation. Amazingly it works.
1927 is a theater company established by Director Suzanne Andrade and Animation Designer Paul Barritt. Their specialty is synchronizing performance and live music with animation and film. Their virtuosity is evident in this production. “The Magic Flute” is their first foray into opera. It is a little like Mozart on acid, not that it is automatically a bad thing. It is certainly an audience pleaser and should attract young and old who previously, perhaps, have been intimidated by opera. Come, you will see; it is better than painless; it is entertaining.
“Magic Flute” is a comic opera, and Mozart was a young, risk-taking kind of a guy. Chances are he would have been delighted with Barrie Kosky’s Komische Opera Berlin production. Designed as a silent film, in color (there is no slavish attempt to stay in any one period), the often tedious spoken dialogue is replaced by intertitles projected on the set and accompanied by excerpts from Mozart’s Fantasias for Piano, played on an amplified fortepiano to sound like something that might have accompanied a silent film. The ploy works like a charm for most of the audience; the more fastidious opera aficionados may hunger for Mozart’s lengthy recitatives; chacun a son gout. Two hours and forty minutes is long enough for many of the rest of us.
For many people their main acquaintance with classical music is as accompaniment to cartoons so it should not be a stretch to experience James Conlon’s soaring LA Opera Orchestra supporting dragon flies, flying elephants, or a menacing stage filling spider who just happens to be the Queen of The Night (So Young Park). If there is a problem, it is that so much is happening at once it is often a challenge to concentrate on the voices. Park takes command whenever she is on stage. I would not want to encounter her spider on a dark night.
This is a very young cast, many from the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program. They embrace the spirit of the production and seem thoroughly engaged even when being held high above the floor in one of those flush, rotating doors. It would be a mistake to assume that, as much of the action is projected on to and around the singers, no acting is required. In fact it demands split second timing and coordination. Jonathan Michie, in particular, brings a sparkle in both his singing and Buster Keaton-like action.
A technical issue is that, once again, with super titles suspended so high above the scene, it becomes impossible to watch the main attraction and follow the story; fortunately, with this production, the animation and pantomime-like movements portray the story much of the time.
For a rip-roaring evening, especially if you missed it two years ago, see the current LA Opera “Magic Flute.” Understand, it is not your classic evening at the opera. In this case, first time is a charm. Second time does not quite pack the same punch. Love, though sweet, cannot be the same second time around.