In a truly spellbinding night at the opera, Komische Oper Berlin and UK theatre group 1927 use precision-point technical wizardry and bewitching stagecraft to transform Mozart’s classic tale into a glorious mix of silent movies, Weimar cabaret and even a touch of Disney-esque Silly Symphonics.
With the orchestra hidden in the pit, the stage is dominated by a blank screen onto which striking, surreal and whimsical animations are projected. With pinpoint positioning and via the use of some cleverly-placed horizontal traps in the screen, the cast of The Magic Flute interact with their virtual surroundings, creating some spectacular set-pieces and a masterful visual reimagining of Tamino and Pamina’s quest.
Thus The Queen of the Night is transformed into a nightmarish gigantic spider; Sarastro is honoured by a procession of clockwork beasts; and Tamino descends deep into the bowels of the earth to face his demons. Coupled with this, the traditionally-spoken parts of the opera are instead projected as large text plates in the style of silent movies, accompanied by Mozart fantasias tinkled on 1920s-style ivories whilst the actors exaggerate their parts on stage.
Equally, Esther Bialas’ costumes are lifted straight from the golden age of Hollywood, with Papageno evoking the spirit of Buster Keaton, Pamina a glamourous bobbed flapper and Monostatos a leather-clad Noseferatu.
As a visual treat, this combination works, with the interaction between cast and animation never skipping a frame. It could be said however that the overall spectacle at times overshadows the perfectly accomplished musical performances, almost making it easy to overlook Adela Zaharia’s sweetly demure performance as Pamina, Jussi Myllys’ robustly heroic Tamino and Dominic Köninger’s expressive and accomplished Papageno. An exception perhaps is Beate Ritter’s Queen of the Night, whose vocal performance manages to transcend the visuals, hitting all the high notes the role demands with effortless aplomb. Equally, Kristiina Poska’s conducting is sprightly and effervescent, providing lively accompaniment to the whimsy occurring on stage.
As a whole, it is fair to say that Komische Oper and 1927 have created something quite unique with this production, and it would be only the meanest-spirited of purists who would criticise this production for being anything less than magical.