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L.A. Opera to import a 'Magic Flute' influenced by silent films

June 04, 2013|By Mike Boehm

Having developed a momentary case of the 20-year itch for the beloved production of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” that it has been rolling out since 1993, Los Angeles Opera announced Tuesday that it’s about to have a fling with a sexy new flame it met earlier this year in Berlin.

Instead of a fifth helping of the 1993 production directed by Peter Hall and designed by noted British cartoon artist Gerald Scarfe – as had been anticipated when the company announced its 2013-14 season in January – L.A. Opera’s general director, Placido Domingo, announced Tuesday it will offer the U.S. premiere of an unorthodox version of “The Magic Flute” that was launched early this year by Komische Oper Berlin and combines live opera with silent film that uses 21st century digital animation to create a 1920s Buster Keaton-ish feel.

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Running Nov. 23 to Dec. 15, "The Magic Flute" will star Americans Lawrence Brownlee as Tamino and Janal Brugger as Pamina; L.A. Opera’s music director, James Conlon, will conduct. They may have to work hard to keep the music from being overwhelmed by the staging.

Christopher Koelsch, L.A. Opera’s president, encountered the new production on a scouting trip in January, and it was love at first sight.

“It has a kind of irresistible charm,” he said Tuesday. While the costumes, props and set pieces needed to revive the Hall/Scarfe production will “absolutely” remain in storage, ready for future use,  Koelsch said, “it would be a missed opportunity if we didn’t take advantage” of the chance to introduce the new production to U.S. audiences.

“The most interesting thing to me is that the idiom seems native to Hollywood” because of the strong silent-film era connection that makes it particularly suited to an introductory L.A. run, he said.

Though it's being seen in Berlin, the production is the brainchild of upstart British theater artists who head a London avant-garde theater company called 1927, and Barrie Kosky, a veteran Australian opera director with experimental tastes who’s in his first season as artistic leader of Komische Oper Berlin. This will be Kosky’s American debut as an opera director.

The production’s chief innovation is to give the singers repeated timeouts, excusing them from the half-sung, half-spoken “singspiel” passages that Mozart used to carry the action forward. The singers stand frozen while silent films and projected texts do the narrative work. The bountiful animation includes projections of beasts that look like shadow puppets, with which the singers will learn to interact.

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“The production mixes the live singers with colorful, inventive and often very beautiful animations that render the entire thing somewhere between an opera and a cartoon,” a reviewer at recently wrote of the Berlin staging. “The animations are the real star of the show, and they are a constant delight … something both modern and retro … whimsical and often very funny.”

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