We need Marvel Comics’ lingo like this – and by the way, a word that later makes its way into the visual libretto— to begin to describe how Lyric’s animation-rich production of The Magic Flute astounds.
A brilliant crimson curtain in a cutaway stage reminds of puppet theater as the so memorable overture to Mozart’s The Magic Flute is played by the orchestra, under the baton of a female conductor, Karen Kamensek.
It’s an unusual curtain...
Will we see Kukla, Fran and Ollie?
That guess puts you in a close solar system, as it turns out, when we meet our hero, Prince Tamino (tenor Pavel Petrov) looking like a singing paper doll. He appears ant-sized as he sings an S.O.S, terrified by the ominous evil-eyed serpent/dragon slithering in animated blinks of high velocity in a dark forest. The camera – and yes, it does envelop us in a feeling of cinema right from the get-go – zooms in on the serpent’s face and his menacing eyes. Soon, we are with our hero where he lands, in the catacombs-like surrounds of the serpent’s stomach mingling with the skeletons of prior victims.
This isn’t just animation, in this writer’s view.
This is ANIMATION!!!!! THAT SHOUTS and WOWS!!!!!
Even the most dedicated Mozart devotees — the ones who could do singalongs with any Mozart aria —are likely so overcome with the visual stimuli, as we all are, that they too might have to strain to focus on Mozart’s so delighting melodies. When you do though, you realize that these are ace musical performances.
While Tamino sits forlornly in the serpent's stomach, three women with supernatural powers dressed in roaring 20’s fashion are perched from above. These three ladies who serve the Queen of the Night sing about what a cutie Tamino is. They compete for his affection, each sending him animated hearts that the other two competitive superwomen burst with invisible arrows—again astounding with animations that bring the emotional texture of the libretto to life.
It gets even better…
Instead of spoken narrative in the style of a singspiel that The Magic Flute traditionally adheres to, the storyline is conveyed with both thoughts and dialogue being presented in the black and white titles typical of silent films, title cards, accompanied by pianoforte. As the script requires, the percussion section adds special effects like thunder and explosions, using devices more typical of radio theater. When Papageno (Huw Montague Rendall) bursts on the scene looking like a Buster Keaton doll, our transport to the world of silent film takes another leap.
All the singers either step out of celluloid, or blend in, with the help of beyond perfect makeup, so that they lose their real-world human dimensions and instead merge into the fantasy of the storyline. This writer likely wasn’t the only one in the audience who strained to see if the leggy spider, Queen of the Night (Lila Dufy,) was actually on stage or somehow piped in. So threatening and able to catch hero and heroine alike in her web—animated before our eyes—she suggests the fear underlying the misogyny of Mozart’s time and story. You bet she’s gonna eat her mate after sex! Watch out!
Pre-Performance Talk at Lyric Opera HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
Misogyny of the times, or Mozart’s lack thereof, is one of the topics explored by the pre-performance lecturer and freelance dramaturg Colin Ure. His engaging talk gives insights into how Mozart’s The Magic Flute is also infused with symbolism alluding to the rituals of Free Masons, that both Mozart and librettist Emanuel Schikaneder were involved in. This lecture is not to be missed, in this reviewer’s opinion. It is one of the more informative pre-performance lectures the Lyric Opera has presented to date.
There is a storyline to this opera, of course, though one of pure fantasy. More though, it seems irrelevant to what this production of The Magic Flute delivers exponentially. Forget about gasping when an elephant strolls on a grand opera stage.
THIS is spectacle!
Sticklers for the purity of an earlier traditional production might steer clear – even though this production will reward you amply with top level singing performances. For the rest of us, this is a top pick for your time, meriting a change of schedule to catch it if needed.
The Magic Flute (Die Zauberflöte)
New-to-Chicago Production | Singspiel in two acts in German Music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Libretto by Emanuel Schikaneder and Carl Ludwig Giesecke
CAST (in order of appearance):
Huw Montague Rendall
Martin Luther Clark
Conductor: Karen Kamensek
Original Directors: Suzanne Andrade, Barrie Kosky
Revival Director: Tobias Ribitzki
Designer: Esther Bialas
Animation Designer: Paul Barritt
Chorus Master: Michael Black
Wigmaster and Makeup: Sarah Hatten
Assistant Director: Jordan Braun
Stage Managers: Rachel Tobias and Sandra Zamora
Hammerklavier: Jerad Mosbey
Stage Band Conductor: Stefano Sarzani
Musical Preparation: Noah Lindquist, Jerad Mosbey, Chris Reynolds, Stefano Sarzani
Projected English Titles: Komische Oper Berlin
Thru November 27, 2021
November 7, 11, 14, 17, 19, 27
Running time: 2 hours and 40 minutes, including one 25-minute intermission
20 North Wacker
About the Author: Amy Munice
Amy Munice is Editor-in-Chief and Co-Publisher of Picture This Post. She covers books, dance, film, theater, music, museums and travel. Prior to founding Picture This Post, Amy was a freelance writer and global PR specialist for decades—writing and ghostwriting thousands of articles and promotional communications on a wide range of technical and not-so-technical topics.
Amy hopes the magazine’s click-a-picture-to-read-a-vivid-account format will nourish those ever hunting for under-discovered cultural treasures. She especially loves writing articles about travel finds, showcasing works by cultural warriors of a progressive bent, and shining a light on bold, creative strokes by fledgling artists in all genres.