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LA Opera's 'Magic Flute' Comes Back For Another Dazzling Ride
Two years after LA Opera first imported the Berlin Comic Opera company's astonishing version of The Magic Flute for a well-received run at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, this bravura take on the popular classic is back in town for another go-round. More than an opera production, the Berlin staging—created in collaboration with the London-based 1927 performance group—accompanies the performance of Mozart's mature fairy tale with a relentlessly fantastical, hyper-kinetic animated video projection, though you might almost insist that the live performance here is really a supporting accompaniment to the video extravaganza.
Even if the high-tech projected display does not always jibe with the traditional thematic and emotional content of The Magic Flute, the underlying work is compellingly enhanced by the makeover that Berlin director Barrie Kosky and 1927's team of Suzanne Andrade and Paul Barritt have conceived and designed for this presentation. The ongoing cascade of stylistically diversified images and settings serve not as a mere backdrop for the opera's performers, but rather as interactive milieus that they inhabit. Characters both soar into heaven and descend into hell. They jump from rooftop to rooftop and get trapped in spider webs. Gardens grow from their tears and vicious dogs attack them. None of these elements or events appear in any synopsis of Mozart's opera.Aficionados who go to the opera to appreciate the singers above all else may not get what they're typically looking for from this particular Magic Flute, though not because the cast isn't good (the cast is good). It's virtually impossible for mere mortal figures on a stage so vast to compete for attention with the overwhelming spectacle. We can't imagine that singers who have already achieved high prominence would ever seek to appear in this production--the show is never going to be about them. While everyone taking on the challenge now is at least solid, the main standout is So Young Park in the vocally showy role of the Queen of the Night, who may have an advantage in remaining motionless every time she's on, appearing only from the shoulders up, while the animated projection casts her as a giant spider.
While we wouldn't want every opera production (or probably even most opera productions) to take an approach as entrancingly distracting as this one, the collaborative project created by Kosky and the 1927 duo really is awe-inspiring to behold. It's also frequently very, very funny. Mozart's original opera, with a libretto by Emanuel Schikaneder, rests on social and philosophical underpinnings that are pretty much ignored in this vision of the work, but its melodramatic sturm und drang and charming love stories are largely preserved.
LA Opera music director James Conlon is in the pit, as he usually is, though his assignment seems rather especially difficult this time, as we'd guess he often has to synchronize the music to the pace of the perpetual visual projections. We wonder if productions in this format, even if they're not quite so lavish, might develop into a new prevalent sub-genre of 21st-century stagecraft, one that perhaps would lend itself to children's, science fiction or other fantasy narratives. For now, though, this Magic Flute is like nothing you've ever seen before or will see anywhere else. As we kept hearing from someone in our row on opening night, it's over and over again "awesome."
The Magic Flute plays five more performances, through March 6, at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. The next one is this Saturday, February 20, at 7:30 p.m.