Silent film-inspired ‘Magic Flute’ dazzles in art deco Lyric Opera House

The Lyric Opera of Chicago is late in the game of importing Komische Oper Berlin’s 2012 version of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute”. Dozens of opera companies across the globe have already borrowed it.

But now that it’s here, Chicago clearly offers the perfect apotheosis of places to see this already legendary production. The Lyric Opera House’s Art Deco majesty greatly enhances the show’s stylized silent film design from the 1920s.

This inspired approach was invented by original co-directors Suzanne Andrade and Barrie Kosky to tell a problematic fantasy story about a prince rescuing a kidnapped princess. It’s easier to let 18th – century misogyny and colonialism slip, while being dazzled by the ingenious and playful creativity of designers Esther Bialas (scenery and costumes) and Paul Barritt (animation and lighting).

Queen of the Night (Lila Dufy) catches Tamino (Pavel Petrov) in her swoon in "The magic whistle" at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Queen of the Night (Lila Dufy) captures Tamino (Pavel Petrov) in her deception in “The Magic Flute” at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.
– Lent by Cory Weaver / Lyric Opera of Chicago

“The Magic Flute” has been re-enacted for Lyric with clockwork precision by director Tobias Ribitzki, and all the visually animated gags arrived without any problems on the opening night. Since production is an established hit, Lyric has taken a few risks by hiring a lot of fresh talent.

Karen Kamensek, who is based in Chicago, makes her lyrical debut, which came into a good groove after a shocking overture that had strange coordination problems. Another debut artist is soprano Lila Dufy, who was technically correct in hitting all the Queen of the Night’s stratospheric highs, though they also came to seem cautious.

Understandably, the demanding technicalities necessary for the projected animation can limit the performers a touch. But many still shone through with lots of personality.

Pride of place goes to Ying Fang, who beamed with a bright soprano sound like the exposed Pamina. As her prince, Pavel Petrov provided a comfortable tenor like Tamino. Tareq Nazmi brought a sonorous bass to the patriarchal temple priest Sarastro, whose grounded principles are depicted through a host of animal-machine inventions.

Pamina (Ying Fang) sings in despair at being rescued by Tamino "The magic whistle" at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, now in the repertoire through Nov. 27.

Pamina (Ying Fang) sings in despair over being rejected by Tamino in “The Magic Flute” at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, now in the repertoire through November 27th.
– Lent by Cory Weaver / Lyric Opera of Chicago

And you do not have to be a silent film fan to appreciate the direct references that came with tenor Brenton Ryan as the Nosferatu-like henchman Monostatos. Baritone Huw Montague Rendall as the comic Buster Keaton-inspired bird catcher Papageno was also a hit (especially with his animated cat companion).

The “magic flute” on Lyrikken overflows with impressive animated images and beautifully sung performances. Do not be surprised if tickets become scarce, for word of mouth should make this superlative show sold out.


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