According to Daniel Ellis “The Magic Flute” was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s version of a Top 40 pop hit.
“It was opera for the common people,” he said. “The music was of the beer hall type, which could be sung by anyone. He didn’t like it for the high court.”
Ellis is directing the Cincinnati Opera’s production of “The Magic Flute” for the Aronoff Center. The two-act opera is the fantastical story of a morally dubious queen who sends a prince to rescue her daughter from an evil high priest. “The Magic Flute” has been a standard part of operatic repertory since its original production, and has inspired several books, films, and works of art. However, in 2012, it received a major makeover by the German opera company, Komishe Oper Berlin, and the English experimental theater troupe, 127.
“It’s not exactly a reboot,” said Ellis. “Suzanne (Andrade), who heads 127, had never been to an opera and had never seen ‘The Magic Flute.’ While (Komish Oper Berlin’s) Boris (Kovsky) wanted to do a ‘Magic Flute’ that made sense, because the story about ‘Flute’ is often that it’s two different stories, and it can be hard to make Act 1 and Act 2 seem congruent.”
Andrade and Kovsky’s eventual conception was to re-imagine “The Magic Flute” as a 1920s silent movie.
“’Flute’ is the rare opera that has music and dialogue, is more like modern musical theater,” Ellis said. “The dialogue has been removed and inserted onto those old text plates, projected over the performers’ heads. ‘Flute’ is a lot of things: part comedy, part adventure, part morality play, which is why it’s so tricky for a director. Boris and Suzanne saw it as a romantic story with a touch of adventure. One of the recurring themes they noticed is people falling in love with an image of someone else. So Boris and Suzanne asked themselves what images we fall in love with today. The answer was the moving picture. This was their way into opera, as opposed to recreating it.”
Regardless of how it came about, this production is part of a general trend to appease both the old-school connoisseurs as well as jaded, ADD-afflicted types who have never seen an opera.
“It’s the story that everyone is used to,” Ellis said. “It’s just made in a different way. It’s very cinematic with the live actors and video animation. Its fun doing traditional opera in a non-traditional way, using the medium we take for granted to show you something you’ve never seen before.”
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