Whoa, 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 that 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.
“The 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 Oper 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 many people whose main acquaintance with classical music is as accompaniment to cartoons, 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 (Erika Miklosa). If there is a problem, it is that so much is happening at once it is often a challenge to concentrate on the voices. Miklosa’s commanding coloratura works. I wouldn’t want to encounter her spider on a dark night. However, on opening night, tenor Lawrence Brownlee’s Tamino lacked luster, and he was the one character whose movements were only serviceable, not spirited. Hard to imagine falling head over heals for him. In contrast, Rodion Pogossov as Papageno seemed to relish his role in a Buster Keaton-esque homage. For the most part this is a very young cast who 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. A technical issue is that, once again, with supertitles suspended so high above the scene, it becomes impossible to watch the main attraction and follow the story. But truth be told, with this production the pantomime-like movements portray the story much of the time.
For a rip-roaring evening, see the current LA Opera “Magic Flute.” But understand: it is not your classic evening at the opera.