The Magic Flute Is Wonderful at L.A. Opera!

From The Huffington Post, December 02 2013

I have seen Mozart’s The Magic Flute about a dozen times over the years, and each time I wonder once again about the invisible line separating the merely brilliant innovator from the creative genius, the latter being so rare as to be almost unimaginable. Mozart, a true genius, wrote this two-act comic opera in 1791 using a German libretto (story line) by a fellow named Schikaneder. It’s in the form of a “singspiel” which combines singing and spoken dialogue. It’s sort of a fairy tale opera, and Mozart conducted the orchestra in its Vienna premiere. Interestingly, I remember that his sister-in-law, Josepha Hofer, sang the difficult role of the Queen of the Night. There’s an aria in which she sings (“The vengeance of hell boils in my heart”) which reaches a high F6, a note rare in opera. The opera was a great success and was performed hundreds of times during the 1790s. His opera celebrated its 100th performance in November, 1792, but tragically Mozart had died of his illness on December 5th, 1791. I am told that it is the fourth most performed opera worldwide. Wikipedia says that it portrays the education of mankind, progressing from chaos through religious superstition to rationalistic enlightenment. Funny, I never got that message from it. There was an English film version of it made in 2006 set against a background inspired by World War I, directed by Kennth Branagh and written by Stephan Fry. My Canadian friends once told me that their national anthem, “Oh Canada,” was based on the beginning of “March of the Priests” in the opera.

I had been told that this presentation of The Magic Flute was going to be radically different from any other I had seen. It was going to be the work of an English theatrical troupe called 1927, run by Suzanne Andrade and Paul Barret. A close friend of mine, Caroline Graham, met Suzanne this summer at the Salzburg Festival at a Montblanc party; Suzanne’s company was performing their show, “The animals and children took to the streets.” And the two of them chatted about Edward Gorey. So when Suzanne recently arrived in L.A. (“Oh, my, what an amazing city”) she contacted Caroline… who, knowing of my intense love of opera, put us together by email.

This new interpretation of The Magic Flute originated at Berlin’s Komische Oper and was co-directed by Suzanne Andrde and Barry Kosky, stage director of that German company. I was told by Gary Murphy, the opera’s astute p.r. guy, that this version incorporated dazzling animation created by Paul Barrit. It evokes the silent film era of Charlie Chapin, Louise Brooks and Buster Keaton. He said that a fast-rising alumna of their young artist program, Janai Brugger, is playing Pamina, joined by a number of debuting artists: Lawrence Brownlee as Tamino, Erika Miklosa as the Queen of the Night, Rodion Pogossov as Papageno, and Evan Boyer as Sarastro. Two people I know slightly, Carol and Warner Henry, made a generous donation to allow this production to come to our L.A stage. Warner imports fine wines from around the world and he supplies all of the sparking wine for the opera events (while Selim Zilkha supplies the exquisite Laetitia still wines to the same events.) Another couple, James and Ellen Strauss, also made a contribution to allow James Conlon to conduct the opera.

Being a film guy by profession, I asked Suzanne how this all came about, and she told me that about four years ago, Barry Kosky of Berlin attended a performance of their “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea,” the first show created by the1927 company. Barry is quoted as saying:

The moment the show started, there was this fascinating mix of live performance with animation, creating its own aesthetic world. Within minutes, the strange mixture of silent film and music hall had convinced me that these people had to do The Magic Flute with me in Berlin. It seemed to me quite an advantage that Paul and Suzanne would be venturing into opera for the first time, because they were completely free of any preconceptions about it, unlike me.
Yes, it was wildly unconventional and utterly wonderful. Suzanne noted that she, Paul and Barry all had a love for vaudeville, revue, music hall and similar forms of theatre and especially silent film (me too), so their Papageno was suggestive of Buster Keaton, Monostatos is a bit Nosferatu, and Pamina is perhaps a bit reminiscent of Louise Brooks. (Remember her, with the bangs hairdo and the racy reputation?) “The world of silent film gives us a certain vocabulary that we can then use in any way that we like,” notes Suzanne.

I asked her why the name “1927” for their company, and she laughingly replied: 1927 was the year of the first sound film, The Jazz Singer, with Al Jolson, an absolute sensation at the time. Curiously, however, no one believed at the time that the talkies would prevail over silent films. We found that aspect especially exciting. We work with a mixture of live performance and animation, which makes it a completely new art form in many ways. Many others have used film in theatre, but 1927 integrates film in a very new way. We don’t do a theatre piece with added movies. Nor do we make a movie and then combine it with acting elements. Everything is hand in hand . Our shows evoke the world of dreams and nightmares., with aesthetics that harken back to the world of silent films.”

Suzanne emailed me a final comment

Our Magic Flute is a journey through different worlds of fantasy. But as in all our shows, there is a connecting style that ensures that the whole thing doesn’t fall apart aesthetically.
So there I was sitting impatiently in my seat at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion wearing my magic suit and glasses, awaiting a silent film with music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart! And it was well worth the wait. As Mark Swed, music critic of the L.A. Times said: “Flute was a dazzling live-action cartoon far too adorable to offend. Go ahead and bring the kiddies.”

May I suggest that you also make arrangements to see one of the remaining shows, since it will run only run until December 15th. Go to LAOpera.com or call 213-972-8001 for tickets. Shows will be on Saturday, Nov. 30th, at 7:30 pm, Thursday, Dec. 5th, at 7:30 pm, Sunday, Dec. 8th, at 2 pm, Wednesday, Dec. 11th, at 7:30 pm, Friday, the 13th, at 830 pm, and Sunday, the 15th, at 2 pm.

Read more: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jay-weston/the-magic-flute-is-wonder_b_4344333.html

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