The Magic Flute by Minnesota Opera Company, performing at the Ordway

Julien Behr in The Magic Flute. Photo by Dan Norman.

Julien Behr in The Magic Flute. Photo by Dan Norman.

The Magic Flute, one of Mozart’s most successful and recognizable operas, is equal parts genius and insane. Its plot is a convoluted fever dream filled with changing allegiances, romantic schmaltz, and an abundance of strange mythology. One cannot help but wonder what, if any, drugs may have aided its conception. Yet, it is by all means eminently engaging, for its music, which sounded beautiful as conducted by Michael Christie, is a wonder.

It is fitting that this work be paired with an equally insane and genius delivery. In utilizing an aesthetic that marries the German expressionism of early film auteurs Lang and Murnau with projected animation that references, among many other things, the psychedelic animation of Fleischer Studios, the production proves a feast for both the eyes and ears.

Saturday night’s performance opened Minnesota Opera Company’s reprise run of last year’s hit take on the beloved opera classic, originally produced in Berlin by production company 1927. The London-based theater company combines Mozart’s melodies with a blank white stage canvas onto which images are projected and singers appear to perform. The set allows this fever dream to take flight, sometimes literally, as three child singers appear as butterflies floating through the air and Prince Tamino (tenor Julien Behr) fights an evil dragon to begin the action.

Much of the show’s movement comes via its animation, as the performers are often strapped to elevated platforms. Occasionally this delivery creates restriction on the performers and prevents them from freely emoting. This, however, is a minor complaint, as the animation itself is striking and often effectively communicates the emotion of the story where the performers cannot.

Minnesota Opera’s production should be applauded for its tight choreography and deft comic timing, in addition to the strength of its vocals. Those vocals are highlighted by soprano Christie Conover’s resonant turn as Pamina, who is both spirited and charming. But really, the entire cast delivers Mozart’s challenging work with aplomb, and Jeni Houser even manages to provide a fairly good “Queen of the Night,” known as one of opera’s most difficult arias. However, the animations accompanying the piece, the opera’s most recognizable, proved a bit lackluster and hamstrung its singer.

A highlight of the opera was the duet, “Pa … pa … pa …”, as it was aided by the show’s silliest and most amusing animations. In this moment and many others, the animation elevates the show’s vaudevillian comic sensibilities.

It is hard not to recommend a production like this. Opera can all too often feel stuffy and traditional, but this production is fresh and inventive. Though its format creates some limitations, it also opens up new possibilities for opera and is bound to intrigue new audiences. As far as this production goes, so long as you suspend your disbelief for its nonsensical plot, it is a wonderful opportunity to explore opera’s joys in a new light.

David and Chelsea Berglund review movies on the site Movie Matrimony.


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