Who would have thought that pink elephants would have a place in Mozart’s “The Magic Flute?” But when they make their appearance in Minnesota Opera’s production, currently running at Ordway Center, they were a delight.
Frankly, I prefer my opera productions more traditional, but this one had enough creativity, energy and, yes, magic to win me over. The production originated at the Komische Opera in Berlin in 2012 and was created by the avant-garde British theater group 1927.
They present Mozart’s tale of the quest for enlightenment as a silent movie. The singers perform behind a screen, sans sets and props, interacting primarily with a variety of animated images. The scenes iris in and out. Title cards replace the dialogue.
There was one miscalculation: using old-time movie music to cover the title cards. This compromised Mozart’s sublime music.
Much in this production was outrageous — in a good way. The evil Queen of the Night was a giant skeletal arachnid (all that was visible of the singer was her face). The bird catcher, Papageno, was done up as Buster Keaton.
In this conception, much of the dignity and nobility of Mozart’s music was lost. But conductor Aaron Breid created delicate orchestra textures that were the embodiment of classical clarity.
There were moments when the producers got carried away with their anarchic ideas, and the results became overly manic. Ironically, the production occasionally felt static, the singers rooted in their positions, unable to interact with one another. But the deftness with which they coordinated with the animation was amazing.
This was not the best sung “Magic Flute” ever. In the context of the production, the singing seemed almost incidental.
Christie Hageman Conover, substituting for an ailing Layla Claire as the heroine, Pamina, stole the show with her strong and expressive lyric soprano. She performed a heartfelt “Ach, ich fuhls.”
Andrew Wilkowske brought a charming baritone to Papageno, creating an endearing character within the Keaton impersonation.
As the Queen of the Night, Jennifer O’Loughlin had significant intonation problems in the coloratura of her arias.
Tenor Julien Behr needed more elegance and refinement as the hero, Tamino. And Christian Zaremba’s bass needed more vocal heft for the High Priest Sarastro.
William Randall Beard is a Minneapolis writer.