Silent movie-inspired 'Magic Flute' dazzles at art deco Lyric Opera House

  • Pamina (Ying Fang) and Papageno (Huw Montague Rendall) sing about love while being surrounded by flowers, birds and bees in "The Magic Flute" at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, now in repertory through Nov. 27.

    Pamina (Ying Fang) and Papageno (Huw Montague Rendall) sing about love while being surrounded by flowers, birds and bees in "The Magic Flute" at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, now in repertory through Nov. 27. Courtesy of Cory Weaver/Lyric Opera of Chicago

  • Pamina (Ying Fang) is cornered by Monostatos (Brenton Ryan) and his bloodthirsty hounds in "The Magic Flute" at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, now in repertory through Nov. 27.

    Pamina (Ying Fang) is cornered by Monostatos (Brenton Ryan) and his bloodthirsty hounds in "The Magic Flute" at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, now in repertory through Nov. 27. Courtesy of Cory Weaver/Lyric Opera of Chicago

 
 
Updated 11/4/2021 7:32 PM

The Lyric Opera of Chicago is late in the game at importing the Komische Oper Berlin's 2012 version of Mozart's "The Magic Flute." Dozens of opera companies around the globe have already borrowed it.

But now that it's here, Chicago clearly provides 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 1920s silent-movie designs.

 

This inspired approach was dreamed up by original co-directors Suzanne Andrade and Barrie Kosky to tell a problematic fantasy story of a prince rescuing a kidnapped princess. It's easier to let the 18th century misogyny and colonialism slide as you're dazzled by the ingenious and playful creativity of designers Esther Bialas (sets and costumes) and Paul Barritt (animation and lighting).

The Queen of the Night (Lila Dufy) catches Tamino (Pavel Petrov) in her web of deceit in "The Magic Flute" at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.
The Queen of the Night (Lila Dufy) catches Tamino (Pavel Petrov) in her web of deceit in "The Magic Flute" at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. - Courtesy of Cory Weaver/Lyric Opera of Chicago

"The Magic Flute" has been restaged for Lyric with clockwork precision by director Tobias Ribitzki, and all of the visual animated gags came off without a hitch on opening night. Since the production is an established hit, the Lyric has taken a few risks by employing a lot of fresh talent.

Making her Lyric debut is conductor and Chicago native Karen Kamensek, who got into a good groove following a shaky overture that had odd coordination issues. Another debut artist is soprano Lila Dufy, who was technically correct at hitting all the Queen of the Night's stratospheric high notes even if they also came off as cautious.

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Understandably, the exacting technicalities needed for the projected animation can constrain the performers a touch. But many still shined through with plenty of personality.

Pride of place goes to Ying Fang, who beamed with a bright soprano sound as the in-peril Pamina. As her prince, Pavel Petrov provided a pleasant tenor as Tamino. Tareq Nazmi brought a sonorous bass to the patriarchal temple priest Sarastro, whose reasoned principals are depicted via multitudes of animal-machine inventions.

Pamina (Ying Fang) sings in despair at being shunned by Tamino in "The Magic Flute" at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, now in repertory through Nov. 27.
Pamina (Ying Fang) sings in despair at being shunned by Tamino in "The Magic Flute" at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, now in repertory through Nov. 27. - Courtesy of Cory Weaver/Lyric Opera of Chicago

And you don't have to be a silent movie buff to appreciate the direct references that came with tenor Brenton Ryan as the Nosferatu-like henchman Monostatos. Baritone Huw Montague Rendall as the comical Buster Keaton-inspired bird catcher Papageno was also a hit (especially with his animated kitty companion).

"The Magic Flute" at the Lyric overflows with wowing animated visuals and beautifully sung performances. Don't be surprised if tickets become scarce, because word-of-mouth should make this superlative show a sell out.

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