Premiering in Australia at the Perth Festival this year, the production is a collaboration between the Komische Oper Berlin, Australian theatre, and opera director Barrie Koske and the animation theatre troupe 1927.
The curtain is raised on what looks like a white cinema screen, and a projector casts a clever animation across it, which the cast use as a prop and emotional foil for their characters. At times, the animation gives the audience the uncanny impression performers are flying; at other times, they appear to be sinking beneath the earth.
Singers appear through rotating doors on the screen to deliver a powerful interpretation of Mozart’s thrilling score and Emanuel Schikaneder’s surreal libretto.
Kosky said he knew 1927 had to put on The Magic Flute four years ago after seeing the company’s first production Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea.
«From the moment the show started there was this fascinating mix of live performance with animation, creating its own aesthetic world,» he said.
«Within minutes this strange mixture of silent film and music hall had convinced me that these people had to do The Magic Flute with me in Berlin.
«It seemed to me quite an advantage that [1927 co-directors] Paul [Barritt] and Suzanne [Andrade] would be venturing into opera for the first time, because they were completely free of any preconceptions about it, unlike me.»
Kosky said they all shared a love of vaudeville, music hall and for silent film.
The opera’s Papageno suggests Buster Keaton, Monostatos leans on Nosferatu, and Pamina is inspired by Louise Brooks, especially as she sports the hairstyle made famous by the silent screen star.
Barritt said there was more to the opera’s influence than 1920s silent film.
«We take our visual inspiration from many eras – from the copper engravings of the 18th Century as well as in comics of today,» he said.
«There is no preconceived aesthetic setting in our mind when we work on a show. The important thing is that the image fits.»
And the music? The performers, led by Polish soprano Iwona Sobotka playing Pamina and supported by the WA Opera and WA Symphony Orchestra, were not deterred by the extravagant production, but revelled in it.
And despite the astonishing production there were some who closed their eyes for a moment or two just to let the music soak in.
The performance runs for two hours and 40 minutes, and even though some inexperienced opera-goers might be daunted at the length, this production of the The Magic Flute is over far too soon.
The audience were on their feet when the curtains came down and they were reluctant to let the cast off the stage.
Mozart’s The Magic Flute is at His Majesty’s Theatre, February 20-23 as part of the Perth Festival.
Nathan is WAtoday’s political reporter.