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Operatic ‘silent movie’ coming to the Civic Center this March

A unique performance of a whimsical opera by Mozart is happening at the Des Moines Civic Center March 5-6, to open the Des Moines Metro Opera's 50th anniversary season.

The Magic Flute, one of Mozart’s most timeless operas about the search for truth, reason, love and enlightenment, has gotten a production makeover for modern times, and a new version of the performance is coming to Des Moines.

“This production is unlike things that people have seen before, and certainly unlike any opera that they’ve seen before, because of this unique multi-media production,” said director Erik Friedman. “A lot of the design was inspired by silent film and film cues from the 1920’s --- it’s sometimes referred to as the ‘silent film Magic Flute,’ it’s quite fantastical.”

The staging of this opera creates the impression that the opera itself is a gigantic, live silent movie, fitting especially for the story of “The Magic Flute.”

“This iteration of the production was a collaboration between a German opera company in Berlin and a British theatre organization called 1927. 1927 does a lot of multimedia work, and so in the collaboration, they discussed this and they came to this approach of the interactive video design. How it works is there are something like 700 or so video cues that the stage manager will call over the course of the show. Every moment for every performer is choreographed very precisely with all those video cues,” Friedman said. “All the illustrations are hand drawn, and it took them about two years to put them together.”

About the Opera

“The Magic Flute” follows the adventures of Prince Tamino and the bird-catcher Papageno on their quest to rescue the character Pamina. To assist them in their quest, they receive musical instruments enhanced with magical powers, which they use to conquer the trials and tribulations placed in their path towards a deeper understanding of true love and happiness.

The work "The Magic Flute" originally premiered on September 30, 1791 and has been performed ever since as an opera to inspire love of the arts and the possibility of the theatre. It’s sung in German, with English subtitles.

In Des Moines, singers who will be strapped to a perch on the wall, will traverse Mozart’s score, interacting with the silent-film-style-projected animations, accompanied by a stream of visually incredible fantasy.

The handsome prince Tamino is sung by internationally-acclaimed-tenor, Aaron Blake. Blake, known for his role creation of Timothy Laughlin in the Cincinnati Opera’s world premiere of Gregory Spears’ “Fellow Travelers,” has been noted by the ‘New York Times’ for his “youthful fervor and endearing sweet sound.” Blake will complete this year’s opera season by presenting the role of the High Priest of Amon in the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Philip Glass’ “Akhnaten.”

The prince’s sidekick will be the zany Papageno. Outside-the-box-baritone, Andrew Wilkowske, portrays the nutty bird-catcher. In 2021, Wilkowske co-created with composer John Glover and starred in “Guns N’ Rosenkavalier,” a wild mix of art-song recital and rock concert. ‘Opera News’ observed Wilkowske’s portrayal in the Minnesota Opera’s production of “The Magic Flute,” claiming “Wilkowske’s comedic gifts - - have had no more flattering showcase than Papageno. Charismatic but not unduly hammy, he made the scene of the bird-catcher’s near suicide a thing of unaccustomed emotional consequences and dramatic weight.”

The icing on the cake is internationally famous opera star and concert singer, soprano, Audrey Luna. Grammy-award-winning Luna, who appeared as the Controller in the DMMO’s 2018 production of Jonathan Dove’s “Flight,” attacks her high-pitched F with ease, as she tackles the coloratura role of Mozart’s nasty Queen of the Night. Luna holds the rare distinction of hitting the highest note ever sung on the Metropolitan Opera stage. She is well-known for nailing an A6 in Adès’ “The Exterminating Angel.”

Freidman, the director, says that this performance will be especially stunning as all the singers in the show have performed this piece previously. He's been working on productions of this exact show for about a year, having directed the same piece for the Israeli Opera, the LA Opera and the Houston Opera.

Tickets

Tickets for the show are on sale now through the DMMO’s website. Live performances will take place on Saturday, March 5 and Sunday, March 6 at the Des Moines Civic Center. Iowa Public Radio will air the audio of the performance at a later date in 2022.