Published on November 25th, 2013 | by Zamná Ávila
The Magic Flute
By John Farrell, Curtain Call Writer
When the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion is full, it’s a dynamic place to be.
When it is empty, it is very different. The hall is echoingly empty, as a recent tech rehearsal, the first ever open to the press (or so it was said) proved.
When the audience is in the hall, the air is warm with human temperature and expectations of music to come. Even a single phrase can be heard from the back row.
Filled with people dressed to the nines, drinking champagne from plastic flutes beforehand, ushers in the dozens manning the doors, and with a full orchestra and technicians in the back booth ready to dim the lights on cue. It is a very different place.
But a technical rehearsal is not for the audience. It is a chance for lighting cues, for musical tests (the pianist, addressed as “maestro,” sat at a baby grand with a light, placed on the right, immediately next to the orchestra pit) for special effects to be tried and worked out before the full rehearsal begins.
This particular rehearsal was for the artists, of course, but as much for the invited audience, armed with pads and cameras to hear and report on the techniques being employed, and to clamber up on stage for a little hands-on experience.
The production is the new The Magic Flute, Mozart’s last opera, a success from its premier in 1791. It is a masterpiece that has been done around the world, including at Los Angeles Opera, where the most recent version had several outings.
It was done in a new production by for the Komische Oper Berlin by 1927, a British theater group. In 1927 Director Suzanne Andrade and Animation Designer Paul Barritt worked in cooperation with Komische Oper Artistic Director Barrie Kosky for that production. Their Magic Flute was a huge hit there. Now it is being presented at LA Opera.
Several big tables were scattered around the empty seats, tables with computers and other modern paraphernalia, tables that would not be there when the performances of The Magic Flute opened later that week. And, on stage was a large white screen, with a few hidden doors way above the floor, on which was being projected a white and red test pattern for the animation that is a large part of this new (for Los Angeles) production of Mozart’s magic opera.
Andrade admitted to being a novice when it came to opera as she talked to the gathered reporters.
“We said yes to this project as soon as it was presented to us without ever having heard of The Magic Flute or knowing anything about opera,” Andrade said. “Then we heard the opera (for the first time) and thought ‘What have we gotten into?’”
And she added what many opera directors have said, at least privately.
“The music by Mozart is absolutely wonderful,” Andrade said. “The story is not so wonderful.”
The production team did what any British theater troupe would do.
“We got quite drunk in a pub in London and then got quite worked up about it” Andrade said.
Flute is an improbable story of magic, enchantment and love, inflected with Masonic themes and it has always been a challenge. This time around 1927 has created a production that blends silent film tropes and Buster Keaton with cabaret from the Weimar Republic, a little of David Lynch and the Brothers Grimm, according to London’s Guardian newspaper.
“This production was destined for Los Angeles,” Andrade said, “With its evocation of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, we were fated to do it here.”
Paul Barritt designed the animations that are a large part of the production and some of them were on display at the tech rehearsal, projections on the front of the screen that created a spider-like persona for the Queen of the Night, a cat and dog that were available for the press to see and interact with. Barritt drew all the projections that appear on stage the old-fashioned way: by hand.
“For us it is really important to have it look like it was drawn (by hand. We) wanted it to have that handmade feel.”
Barritt used a computer, but he said, “a computer is just a tool to make everything look the way we want. When we first started people said ‘Look what we can do!’ But now people are saying that we used it to do what we wanted.”
The production took 1927 more than a year to create from concept to film. For LA Opera only a few cosmetic changes were made in the production.
Jeff Kleeman, the opera’s long-time technical director, was on hand to show how the secret doors in the panel worked, up a couple of staircases with safety harnesses for everyone involved. There are 10 door handlers, four prop men, three stage manager and six dressers involved in the production and you won’t see any of them, Kleeman said.
Tickets are $19 to $312. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 29, Dec. 5 and 11, and at 8:30 p.m. Dec. 18, with 2 p.m. matinees Dec. 8 and 15.