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Performances

29 Feb 2016

Fascinating Magic Flute in Los Angeles

Barrie Kosky, intendant of the Komische Oper in Berlin, initially thought of combining live performance with animation when he saw British theater company 1927’s production of Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea. For that presentation, Suzanne Andrade and Paul Barritt mixed the worlds of silent film and music hall theater, a combination that Kosky wanted for his production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute.

A singspiel (sing play) is a work made up of arias, duets, ensembles, and spoken dialogue. Kosky describes the Flute as a “mix of fantasy, surrealism, magic, and deeply touching human emotions.”

Thus, Kosky, Andrade, and Barritt condensed the Magic Flute’s dialogue and turned it into silent film intertitles. The result was the Kosky/Andrade/Barritt Magic Flute seen at Los Angeles opera in 2013 and again this year. In the Kosky production, the cast sings the musical numbers while the audience reads spoken dialogue on silent-movie-type screens and pianist Peter Walsh plays excerpts from Mozart’s C Minor and D Minor Fantasies. It is, without a doubt, one of the most imaginative productions of the work this critic has seen in more than fifty years of opera going.

At the performance at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on February 20, 2016, director Kosky gave Papageno an amusing cat that followed his every move while barely controllable vicious dogs led Monastatos about. Other animals were also ingeniously animated. Esther Bialas dressed The Three Ladies in Roaring Twenties costumes. When they punished Papageno for lying, the audience saw an enlarged picture of his constantly moving mouth.

Conductor James Conlon’s tempi were often fast but they always fit the twists and turns of the story and at times he gave us serenity. Always aware of the singers’ needs, he gave this performance clearly balanced sonorities in a vigorous, evocative rendition of Mozart’s singspiel.

Ben Bliss, a recent alumnus of the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program (YAP), was an elegant, silken voiced Tamino with golden top notes. A new artist, he was a perfect young lover who sang his first aria, "Dies Bildnis is bezaubernd schön," (This portrait is enchantingly beautiful) with a resonant, virile sound. Bliss is a tenor to watch. Marita Sølberg was a suave, feminine, Pamina who sang with vocal refinement and admirable phrasing.

As Papageno, Jonathan Michie offered an appealing dramatic impersonation that was both amusing and touching. Whether bragging, longing for a lover or merely calling for a good meal, Michie’s irrepressible bird catcher offered delightful comedy that always held the audience’s interest. Watching him made the audience understand why Emanuel Schikaneder, the librettist, wrote the role for himself.

Soprano So Young Park (YAP) sang the Queen of the Night with considerable verve and fine enunciation. She had the twinkling staccati as well as a smooth Mozartean line that the role calls for. William Schwinghammer was somewhat underpowered Sarastro but he created a visually authoritative character.

As the Three Ladies, Stacey Tappan, Summer Hassan (YAP), and Peabody Southwell were endearing flappers who formed an idyllic trio. Program member Vanessa Becerra was an expressive Papagena, while fellow member Brenton Ryan created a refined, evil characterization as Monostatos. Frederick Ballentine (YAP) was a sturdy First Armored Mann and bass-baritone Nicholas Brownlee (YAP) was a resonant Speaker and Second Armored Man.

The Los Angeles Children’s chorus provided three treble soloists who sang well and handled themselves adroitly. Grant Gershon directed the Los Angeles Opera Chorus as they added their graceful harmony to this most interesting production which captured the wonder and fantasy of Mozart’s last opera.

Maria Nockin


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