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Barrie Kosky’s The Magic Flute

Los Angeles
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
11/23/2013 -  & November 30, December 5, 8, 11, 13, 15, 2013
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Die Zauberflöte, K. 620
Lawrence Brownlee (Tamino), Janai Brugger (Pamina), Erika Miklósa (Queen of the Night), Evan Boyer (Sarastro), Rodion Pogossov (Papageno), Hae Ji Chang (First Lady) Cassandra Zoé Velasco (Second Lady), Peabody Southwell (Third Lady), Rodell Rosel (Monostatos), Amanda Woodbury (Papagena), Phillip Addis (Speaker), Vladimir Dmitruk (1st Armored Man), Valentin Anikin (2nd Armored Man), Drew Pickett (First Boy), Charles Connon (Second Boy), Jamal Jaffer (3rd Boy)
Los Angeles Opera Chorus, Grant Gershon (Chorus Master), Los Angeles Opera Orchestra, James Conlon (Conductor)
Barrie Kosky, Suzanne Andrade (Stage Directors and Concept), Paul Barritt (Animation and Concept), Ester Bialas (Scenery and Costume Design)

(Courtesy of LA Opera)

It’s a hot ticket in Berlin, it’s a hit on YouTube, and it’s on the stage at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles. It’s Barrie Kosky’s The Magic Flute.

We all know Mozart’s Flute pretty well these days so we can welcome a riff on too familiar material. Actually, the production has been a collaboration for Berlin’s Komische Oper by Australian born, Teutonic formed Kosky, and a British theater company named “1927” (the year of the film Jazzman, a monument of early filmic art that sits on the cusp of silence becoming sound in film).

Like most, maybe all Kosky productions, it is over-the-top, not with the virtuoso weird sexual takes or outrageous nudity that have made Kosky famous, but with the sheer audacity to butcher the holiest of the holy. And to do so with unrelenting visual quotes from the silent film era and unrelenting animation. Never mind that it was charming, at least in intention. Suffice it to say that the Queen of the Night is an animated spider, Papageno is Charlie Chaplin, and the magic flute is a dragonfly. Check it out on YouTube.

L.A. Opera has appropriately and brilliantly rekindled the legendary Berlin/Hollywood film connection with this German import. The opening night audience registered its delight with chuckles, ooh’s and ah’s, laughs. Though charmed, the audience may have been left bereft of the magnificence of Mozart’s Singspiel.

The Kosky version eliminates all dialogue and much orchestral accompanied recitative, substituting mimed action with projected ye olde titles (descriptions or explanations) to the accompaniment of highly melodramatic moments from a few different Mozart fortepiano pieces. The result was disjointed musical flow, the opera no longer about words but instead about images, be they animated film cartoons or silent film quotations with barroom piano sound.

Mozartian magic could perhaps have been discovered in this imagistic storytelling had
the singers been a larger component of the storytelling. The stage was simply a huge screen that sat immediately and elevated on the Chandler stage. Most of the singing emanated from cut out openings high upon the screen thus there was little contact possible between conductor James Conlon and his singers. This alone may explain the generally lackluster performances. On the other hand, there was an astonishing coordination of the pit with the flow of animation, un-nerving when it was not boring.

The music seldom took hold, in fact, there were only two scenes where music enveloped the auditorium and these were the famed second act choruses, singers in formal dress standing on the stage level of the imagined movie palace in front of its bright red curtain. No animation, no film quotes. L.A. Opera’s maestro achieved real musical magic in these moments that are most often secondary to the symphonic enlightenment that other times may suffuse the second act.

Tenor Lawrence Brownlee in white face gamely went through the paces of integrating himself into the animation, deftly dodging all illusionary obstacles thrown in his path. Mr. Brownlee is not a dynamic performer, even the truly elegant phrasing of his arias did not elevate this Tamino to candidacy for redemption. Soprano Janai Bruggeri, also a deft dodger in white face, was faceless as Pamina, vocally mismatched to the purer colors of this heroine’s voice and presence.

The star of the show was Russian baritone Rodion Pogossov as Charlie Chaplin sans moustache, aka Papageno. Mr. Pogossov’s postures were pure Chaplin, vocally he was much more richly endowed than the usual Papageno. He was a warm, abstractly human silent film character (who incongruously sang) aided in no small way by the complete absence of the usual Schikaneder (Flute’s playwright) imposed schtick.

The face and voice of Hungarian soprano Erika Miklósa was the Queen of the Night de rigueur big house casting (the rest of Mme Miklósa was hidden behind the movie screen, her on screen character a gigantic spider). The remaining principal roles, the three ladies and Sarastro were not cast to the stature or for the expanses of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

A brilliant cast and connected pit might propel the images of Mr. Kosky’s concept and 1927’s realization to greater heights. It was an amusing evening, nothing more.

Michael Milenski



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