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Mario Meets Mozart In This Video Game/Opera Mashup In NoHo

The Magic Flute is going old school. (Courtesy Pacific Opera Project)
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The Magic Flute's getting a 1-Up.

Mozart's opera fairy tale is getting a video game revamp, with Nintendo characters from the Mario and Zelda series as the leads, plus an all-new English libretto making it into something both different and the same.

The show, put on by the Pacific Opera Project, is another in their series of operas for people who don't like opera. It opens with Legend of Zelda star Link -- in Super Mario Bros. level 1-4, facing off with Bowser.

"When that curtain opens, and people see the first scene, I think they're going to go crazy," show director Josh Shaw said. He also co-wrote the script and designed the show.

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The production is set in the world of early Nintendo games, with Mario, Zelda, and Donkey Kong featured prominently -- along with cameos from games like Kung Fu, Duck Hunt, Kid Icarus, Mega Man, Hogan's Alley, and more.

Video game history comes to life. (Martha Benedict for the Pacific Opera Project)

(Want to know more about the real Magic Flute? Watch this animated plot summary.)

The show's origins started when Shaw had to put up a version of Magic Flute last summer on short notice. He wrote the English libretto with his friend Scott Levin, who stars in this production. The previous version served as a workshop, with the show now being entirely rewritten.

Shaw said he tries not to force anything on an opera just to give it a new concept.

"This just lined up so well, because you have Tamino in the Magic Flute, who's all about going on quests, and trying to find his princess, Pamina -- and that is Zelda and Link exactly," Shaw said. "And then you have Mario, who's a coin collector -- Papageno's a bird collector, so it's a pretty close correlation there."

One of the biggest challenges for Shaw while developing the show: the Magic Flute has a lot of female characters, while early video games didn't. His adaptations included doing some gender-swapping, mapping the Queen of the Night character onto Zelda villain Gannon.

"That's probably the biggest stretch -- but, you know, he's a shapeshifter anyway," Shaw said.

You've also got Donkey Kong as Sarastro, since he has the princess captured at the beginning of the opera.

Magic Flute sets under construction. (Courtesy Pacific Opera Project)
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"You take little pieces that work, and then you explore those and how they can work within the context of Magic Flute," Shaw said.

The Pacific Opera Project has become known over the past nine years for offering left-turn twists on traditional opera, including a Star Trek-inspired version of another Mozart opera, Abduction of the Seraglio, and a Gone With The Wind version of Cosi fan Tutte.

"That's not what we set out to be, but it's just kind of who our brand has become," Shaw said. "What I always look for as a director ... is how do I find something just immediately identifiable that might get a new person to the opera."

They knew that their Star Trek version of Abduction was special, but Shaw and Levin kept telling each other that there's never going to be another show like that.

The Magic Flute isn't a comedy, but the Pacific Opera Project's become known for comedy, so their adaptation definitely is one. They're trying to keep it fresh, forcing themselves to avoid just using the same style of jokes that were in that Star Trek show.

From a Magic Flute photo shoot. (Courtesy Pacific Opera Project)

Shaw's not a big gamer -- he said that his own video gaming days ended in the '90s with GoldenEye on the Nintendo 64 and old-school Mario Kart. The show is targeting adults nostalgic for those early video game days.

"This is something that everybody who's been alive since 1983, or before, I guess, can at least recognize," Shaw said. "You can't go too specific, because you might be a huge Zelda fan, and be in the audience, but 80 percent of the audience just recognizes Link and Zelda. They probably think Link is Zelda."

They tried making it generic enough for the average person, while throwing in extra jokes for the true gamers, Shaw said. Another part of making the show more accessible included cutting and combining some characters.

"It's the same story of Magic Flute, just with a few cuts -- which I don't think anybody's going to complain about," Shaw said.

He added that Magic Flute is actually one of his least favorite operas, and it baffles him why it's one of the top 10 operas in the world every year.

"Because I find it hard to stay awake during Magic Flute most of the time," Shaw said. "I mean, the music is beautiful -- beautiful music, but the story is just... terrible. And so I think we fixed that. I think now you can come hear all the same beautiful music, and get a better story, and get a lot more laughs."

Don't go in expecting musical cues -- they're trying to avoid getting sued as much as possible -- but Shaw did promise some distinctive sound effects, played by the orchestra.

Audiences should expect a huge party, according to Shaw.

"We want people laughing out loud, clapping, yelling, booing, whatever they feel," Shaw said. "And most of all, we want them walking of the theater saying, 'Oh my god, that was so great. I don't care what they do next -- I'm coming back.'"

He also made an appeal for traditional opera fans to come check out the show.

"I know we have some opera lovers not coming, because they think it's going to be too hokey and silly. But what they need to realize is the singing, the artists we have for this production are just incredible. And they're singing all all the same notes that Mozart wrote," Shaw said.

Next up for the Pacific Opera Project is a new Madame Butterfly in both English and Japanese, featuring almost 40 Japanese singers, according to Shaw. Rather than everyone speaking the same language, they wanted to introduce the language barrier into the show, "as if the show really happened," Shaw said.

"On one hand, it's such common sense. Like, how is this 15-year-old Japanese girl talking with an American?" Shaw said. "Obviously, he doesn't speak Japanese, she doesn't speak English -- how is this story happening?"

He called it the most ambitious thing they've ever done. Every Japanese role in the show is played by a Japanese American person -- unlike many productions of Madame Butterfly.

The Magic Flute opens at the El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood on Saturday, March 2, with performances running through Sunday, March 10. You can buy tickets here.

Their Friday, March 8 show is extra special -- video game soundtrack cover band Extra Lives opens for the show, starting at 7:35 p.m. They're also running a costume contest and giving away tickets for a Mushroom Rally go-kart race, a Mario Kart-style event.

Watch a teaser for the show below: