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Mozart’s Magic Flute is currently at the Opéra Comique in the staging imagined by Barrie Kosky, Suzanne Andrade and Paul Barritt of « 1927 », premiered in 2012 at the Komische Oper in Berlin
The Magic Flute is one of the most famous operas in the world, for its multiple levels of reading, musical, textual and philosophical, and its ability to speak to the broadest public, from children to adults, from novices to experts.
Barrie Kosky, Suzanne Andrade and Paul Barritt, have imagined a staging that blends in and brings a fresh perspective on Mozart’s Singspiel.
The spoken dialogues have been shortened and transformed into intertitles of silent films, accompanied by an 18th century piano-forte, playing Mozart’s Fantasy No. 4 in C minor and Fantasy No. 3 in D minor. Then, the plot was shifted to a dreamlike and surreal world, where the singers became the actors of an animated film.
Departure for a fantastic trip
The spectator is thus embarked on a fantastic journey, exploring several artistic fields:
the movies (from Méliès to Pabst, from German Expressionism to the cinema of the 1920s from Walt Disney’s Fantasia to Tim Burton, from Monty Python’s Meaning of Life to The Wizard of Oz or The Pink Panther), live entertainment (theater, illusionism, cabaret, vaudeville, music-hall), Art (from pop art to contemporary art), children’s literature (Pinocchio, Alice in Wonderland), illustration (from technical drawing to comics) and video games.
All these universes coexist with the greatest visual coherence, without diminishing the meaning of Mozart’s opera, but rather by enhancing it in an aesthetic context closer to the 21st century public and its cultural references.
The video « overlaps » itself on the staging and acting, where everything works together, as Suzanne Andrade says in an interview.
Indeed, the animations of the 2000 hand-made drawings projected on the giant screen in the back of the stage, are manually activated following the score, which allows a perfect synchronization with the music.
Smooth and compelling animations
The singers, either in front of the stage or on high platforms, interact with the video in a smooth manner, Papageno caresses his « virtual » cat, and Sarastro’s army of automats escorts his prisoners, the projection interplay is well imagined, especially the « spider » Queen of the Night or the view from above the bed of Pamina.
The animations also manage to create the illusion of movement (the characters run, fly or float while staying in place), to make people laugh (the wolves of Monostatos which transform themselves into cancan dancers), or to surprise them (the beautiful scene of the elevator descending into the depths of the earth or the tarots where lovers turn into skeletons).
There is also plenty of poetic moments, as in the charming duo Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen, where Pamina and Papageno, like Romeo and Juliet on the balcony, sing of love while a flowery and dazzling universe is created around them.
A cast coming straight out of a silent movie from the 20s
On this 8th of November, we were able to see the second cast, with Adrian Strooper as a Burtonian Tamino, very persuasive in his fragility and lack of confidence. Too bad his charming voice suffered from a rather weak vocal production.
Andreas Bauer stands out for his stage presence and offers us a Sarastro with a deeply caressing voice, while Olga Pudova is a terrifying Queen of the Night, inspired by Louise Bourgeois’ famous giant spider.
Johannes Dunz’s Monostatos/Nosferatu is sharp and comical at the same time, while Martha Eason’s Papagena is a lively cabaret dancer. As for the trios, if the three child-spirits (from the Tölzer Knabenchor) dressed as death’s head hawk moths were not always in tune, Inga-Britt Andersson, Katarzyna Wlodarczyk and Karolina Sikora offered us three witty and playful Ladies.
Richard Sveda is a very engaging Papageno/Buster Keaton, his voice is smooth and well projected, his acting very natural and his interaction with the video extremely accurate, the same goes for Kim-Lillian Strebel’s Pamina.
Her character, physically based on Louise Brooks, shows great expressivity, as in the scene where she is caught in her mother’s web and is attacked by dozens of spiders. Her singing is confident and the pianissimi of Ah ich fühl’s are lovely.
An unforgettable visual experience
Because of the cuts in the dialogues and the very fast tempo chosen by the Berlin Komische Oper orchestra — which unfortunately has some difficulty adapting to the acoustics of the venue — time passes quickly, and after 2h40, Pamina and Tamino are finally reunited.
If the emphasis on love is resulting into a neglect of the initiatic dimension of Mozart’s « Masonic » Singspiel and the flattening of the characters, this production has the merit of emphasizing other aspects, such as the mother-daughter relationship between Pamina and the Queen at night, the contrast between reason and instinct, or the unavoidable loneliness of the human being. It’s undeniable that Barrie Kosky’s staging has hooked the audience from the beginning to the end to an original and compelling visual experience that will be hard to forget.