By Anna DeNoia
It doesn’t get much more classic than Mozart’s The Magic Flute. As one of the most well-known works from one of the world’s most well-known composers, its soaring melodies and whimsical story of prince rescuing princess have been enchanting audiences for centuries. This is a piece that has been produced constantly all over the world for hundreds of years— with such a thick history, reinvention is difficult to imagine. Difficult, but not impossible. Lyric Opera’s production of The Magic Flute, originally re-imagined by director Barrie Kosky in collaboration with performance company 1927, transforms the all too familiar material into an utterly unpredictable celebration of light, sound, technology and innovation.
There is no “set” on the Lyric stage, not in the conventional sense. Rather, a large white wall fills the entire proscenium, cutting the playing space into a small downstage sliver— intentional, as this production is heavily inspired by silent films of the 1920’s and operates predominantly in two dimensions. In the production’s first moment, we are simultaneously introduced to both our protagonist, Prince Tamino (Pevel Petrov), as well as the full power of this production’s technology and style. Tamino (Ying Fang), center stage against the white wall, flees from an enormous colorful serpent— a projection, filling the enormous white canvas with brilliant motion. This is only the first in a stunning series of creative, active projected visuals through which the story is told.
As characters are introduced, they rotate into view from behind panels placed at different levels within the white wall, surrounded and supported by the projection design. A particularly memorable visual is the opera’s antagonist, the Queen of the Night. She appears from a panel high off the ground in the center of the wall, transformed into an enormous spider with animated arms and long, long legs encompassing the entire stage. In an impressive display of precision, Tamino scurries about to avoid being trampled by these projected legs, interacting with the animation in real time. This precise synchronization of the projection design with the live elements of the production, the music and physical action, is absolutely mind blowing. The actors constantly interplay with their surroundings, often narrowly avoiding projected danger. An action as precise as popping bubbles even comes to mind, all perfectly synchronous.
While this 2-D approach does seriously limit the performers’ mobility— the actors are attached to their spot on the wall when not on ground level, which is more often than not— this charismatic cast still prove to be master storytellers as well as absolutely stunning vocalists, displaying impressive mastery over the tricky German text. Petrov and Fang as the lovers both hypnotize with their passionate love songs, preserving the humanity at the story’s core among all the magic and spectacle. Lila Dufy does not disappoint as Queen of the Night, delivering the character’s iconic aria with remarkable tact and grace. It was Huw Montague Rendell however who won the audience’s heart with his portrayal of the goofy and hapless Papageno. Keeping an audience laughing through a three hour opera is no easy feat, but Rendell delighted the crowd in each and every moment they shared, his charm aided by an animated feline sidekick.
While Lyric’s production is entirely reliant on its projections and some of the physical action and “liveness” of most theatrical performances may be missed, it’s a sacrifice which can comfortably be made in exchange for this cutting-edge, high-tech take on the old classic. With non-stop stunning visuals and an all-star cast, this innovative and original Magic Flute is not one to miss– it’s hard to imagine Chicago will come across a comparable spectacle any time soon.
The Magic Flute runs through November 27th at the Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Dr.
All ticket holders will be required to show a valid photo ID and proof of vaccination against the COVID-19 virus. Facial masks, worn properly over the nose and mouth, will be required for all patrons for the duration of their time in the theater.
For tickets or more information, please call (312) 332-2244 or visit lyricopera.org.
Photos by Cory Weaver.