For performers, dress rehearsals offer a chance to work out the final kinks before opening night. For publicists they provide a way to inform the public. And for fair-minded reviewers, they offer an opportunity for reflection and reassessment.
Such was the mood at the dress rehearsal for the Minnesota Opera’s return engagement of Mozart’s The Magic Flute at the Ordway Music Theater on Tuesday evening, November 10, 2015. Scheduled for performance on November 14-15, 19, and 21, 2015, this reprise by the Komische Oper Berlin and the British theater group 1927 submits Mozart’s music and Enlightenment beliefs to the same cartoon animation, Keatonesque slapstick, and silent film conventions that enthralled Minnesota audiences in April, 2014.
But this Baby Boomer was in the minority then and his judgment seemed unlikely to change now. After all, several key performers from the previous production (Julien Behr as Tamino and Andrew Wilkowske as Papageno) were playing those roles again. Mozart’s score, while achingly beautiful in spots, seemed pedestrian and unsuitable for much of the mimed action onstage. And the cartoon animation sacrificed the love and terror expressed by the human performers for the comic novelty of playful kittens, hopping monkeys, and spider-monster nobility.
Unlike opening nights with their bustle and nervous anticipation, however, Tuesday night’s atmosphere was laid back and informal. Nobody in the audience wore furs and there was ample room in the mezzanine for attendees to spread out in comfort. A half hour before the performance, Minnesota Opera Head of Music Rob Ainsley took time to explain how Mozart, “the apotheosis of [classical] balance,” in this opera employed “every possible style” in adapting to his singers’ capabilities and his middle-brow audience sensibilities. To express the range of his actors’ emotions he used magic bells, knocking rhythms, and the highest Fs and the lowest bass chords to become “more Beethoven than Beethoven” in communicating romantic emotion.
And while cartoon images of fluttering hearts, frisky cats, and threatening daggers abided throughout, in this edition they never overwhelmed the story of Prince Tamino undergoing a series of emotional trials to make himself worthy of Pamina’s love. For a younger audience accustomed to live performance mixed with video accompaniment on social media, this homage to the 1920s silent film story-telling with intertitles, pantomime, and frantic chases proved hugely enjoyable. Though the rigors of animation may inhibit the human performers’ abilities to interact and express themselves, Mozart’s music and the ensemble’s vocalizing make the story work. Take advantage of special code Social25 at mnopera.org/magic-flute to obtain a $25 ticket and decide yourself.