Mozart Gone Experimental: Backstage at the L.A. Opera

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Suzanne Andrade had never heard of Mozart’s The Magic Flute , nor knew much about the opera. But the British writer and director, along with her theater group 1927, didn’t shy away from updating the most frequently performed German opera at Berlin’s Komische Oper last year. Now, they’re bringing their experiment to Los Angeles.

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On a recent Tuesday afternoon, Andrade, slouched toward a dozen or so reporters at the near empty Dorothy Chandler Pavilion—home to the L.A. Opera. She looked like a xeroxed 1920s photograph and, with a short bob, and elegant nose, and a calf-length skirt, could have easily been mistaken as this production’s heroine. Lucky, the co-creator was there to clarify.

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Magic Flute_Orchestra Tech 1 _November 18, 2013

“We just said yes without even knowing what Magic Flute was. Then we listened to it and thought, What have we agreed to do? There’s a man in a giant bird suit [on stage].”

Veteran opera director Barrie Kosky (a “mad Australian”) approached 1927’s four-person crew after one of their shows. He insisted that they had to do The Magic Flute—which would be a risky move, considering the small company’s unfamiliarity with Mozart’s beloved romance. It’s also been performed on stage regularly since its 1791 premiere. But the gamble has paid off so far, judging by last year’s rave reviews and sold out shows in Berlin.

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Magic Flute_Orchestra Tech 1 _November 18, 2013

1927’s aesthetic has been described as a combination of silent films, David Lynch, the Brothers Grimm, and the cabaret of the Weimar Republic. A clearer description might posit their rendition of The Magic Flute as opera with cartoons, though that, of course, doesn’t do it justice.

From the pink elephants floating in cocktail glasses to the magical flying flutes, animator Paul Barritt, who has the presence of a British Steve Zahn in a pro skater outfit, sketched everything by hand for eighteen weeks. The music is Mozart’s, but the zany staging is Barritt’s. “We had the best Queen of the Night totally in the world,” he said, referring to soprano Erika Miklosa’s role as a giant spider. The singer was trained to interact with his animated projections.

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Take his and Andrade’s blithe candor and you’ll get what 1927’s Magic Flute really is: a witty and playful take on genius. What do they think of bringing it to the home of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton (both of whom influence their work)? “‘Whoopee’ about sums it up. L.A. is an insane, energetic place,” Andrade said. “And I don’t mean that in a cheesy way.”

 

Show photographs by Robert Millar.

text by: Kristina Bravo










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