‘A Magical Storybook’ production of The Magic Flute

Executive Director of PhillyGayCalendar

Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute is being presented by Opera Philadelphia now until September 24 at Philadelphia’s Academy of Music.  Opera Philadelphia’s festival, named O17, is an intense, immersive experience of five new opera productions and related programs which began September 14 and ends September 25. As their advertising states, “For 12 days, our city is a stage.”


The Magic Flute is Mozart’s final opera, a fantasy involving Masonic ideals allied with a love story and supernatural occurrences in a never-never land of make-believe. This production, from the Komische Oper Berlin, is co-produced with Los Angeles Opera and Minnesota Opera. Seldom do we ever see a creative team as large as the cast. There are Co-Directors, Production credits, Animation, and Concept in addition to the usual credits. The Production Team discussed (in the generously-sized program) their concept for the opera in a compelling article titled, “A Magical Storybook.” It was their goal to create an animation-rich environment which provides the setting and scenic design, while staging the work along the lines of a silent film from the 1920s. For the most part, it appeared to be a silent film environment of the German Expressionist School of Film. As a work of art, it is astonishing. The audience at the September 20th performance (a packed house), was clearly thrilled by the kaleidoscopic visuals which were often funny and occasionally mildly ribald.


The question you may be asking is: “Did it work?” The answer would have to be yes for the most part. Creating an entire scenic world with only animation and lighting was a tour-de-force accomplishment. Opera is meant to be a synthesis of the visual, audible, and sensible, appealing to all of the senses. This Magic Flute succeeded in that respect. The audience was raptly intent throughout the evening. At times, the animation was relentless, when it should have allowed the singers their chance to convey heartfelt emotions. For examples, should we be distracted by puffs of smoke in the shapes of naked women while Tamino professes his love for Pamina? Should the audience laugh several times prompted by visual jokes during Pappageno’s attempted suicide? Call us old fashioned, but the story should be allowed to speak for itself at times, without undo busy-ness. Would we enjoy a production of Shakespeare’s Hamlet where a custodian mops the floor on one side of the stage while Hamlet delivers his “To be, or not to be” soliloquy on the other side? Respect the opera for what it is: an artwork which is valid in its own right, without undue upstaging of the drama. This Magic Flute succeeds for what it is, a compelling work unto itself, for those well-acquainted with the work who will enjoy it’s tongue-in-cheek slyness and brilliance. The Magic Flute at this O17 Festival is an astonishing creation.


The orchestra, surely and suavely conducted by David Charles Abell, played admirably. The cast, often performing standing on tiny platforms high in the air, sang fervently. Ben Bliss as Tamino and Rachel Sterrenberg as Pamina were fearless. Olga Pudova as The Queen of the Night deserved a medal for singing her difficult role with elan, all while standing on a platform in the air, having lights flashing and animation provoking repeated outbursts of laughter. Kudos, Ms. Pudova. Philadelphia favorite Jarrett Ott was a sprightly, excellent Pappageno. The remaining cast was stellar.


Festival O18 will be September 20-30, 2018. For further information about The Magic Flute at the Academy of Music, Philadelphia, call 215.732.8400, or visit www.operaphila.org

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