Lyric Opera of Chicago’s high-concept reimagination of Mozart’s classic opera, The Magic Flute couples the fantasy of its source material with the imaginative resourcefulness of several children in their backyard. From grandiose scenic and costume design, to a talented array of leading players, Lyric’s production soars to new heights in Neil Armfield’s production.
The opera–staged in and around a large, yellow two-story home–benefits greatly from Armfield’s reconceptualization, for amidst Mozart’s brilliance, much of The Magic Flute is steeped in fairytale contrivances. The story is typical medieval fantasy with some romance added in. Tamino, accompanied by the hilarious birdcatcher Papageno, sets off on a quest to rescue Pamina, the daughter of the Queen of the Night.
During his journey, Tamino faces several trials in order to win the love of Pamina. Amidst the fantasy elements, The Magic Flute also features a litany of overtly masonic themes–goals of Mozart and librettist Emmanuel Shikaneder.
While this new staging removes the opera from its traditionally fantastic settings, the story is in no way hampered by its setting. Rather, the opera’s performance in the midst of picturesque suburbia is heightened in its fantasy as every inch of the home and surrounding grounds is used to relay the story. Set on a turntable, Dale Ferguson’s scenic design rotates to share many pieces of Mozart’s opera. In one of the most effective moments in the production, during the Act I Overture, it glides with cinematic grace as the household prepares to set up its backyard production. From balconies to porches to the upstairs windows, Ferguson’s set and costumes support as much of the narrative as the exceptional cast.
And exceptional they are. Mozart’s memorable music is brought to life with vigor and beauty by these accomplished singers. As the Queen of the Night, coloratura soprano Kathryn Lewek performs the aria “Der Hölle Rache” with effortless grace. Her talents are matched throughout the wonderful cast, from Andrew Staples’ winning turn as the heroic Tamino, to the hysterical Papageno, played with wonderful timing by baritone Adam Plachetka. From start to finish, The Magic Flute is sung–and acted–with marvelous precision and charm.
Running three and a half hours with one intermission, The Magic Flute combines spellbinding spectacle and magnificent music to tell a fantasy adventure in a dynamic new way. While this bold concept may not be for all opera aficionados, for those willing to embrace a new interpretation, there is much excitement to be found in Armfield’s splendid production. Leaving The Lyric Opera, you just might find yourself eying the surrounding businesses and homes, wondering what magic lies just beyond their surface.
The Magic Flute runs through January 27 at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Curtain is promptly at 7:00pm each performance. Tickets are available from www.lyricopera.com.