Hottest Ticket in Berlin Features Flying Pink Elephants

Photographer: Iko Freese/Komische Oper via Bloomberg

Dominik Koeninger's Papageno, squirted in the face by an animated pink elephant in "The Magic Flute" at the Komische Oper. The singers interact with animated graphics by the British theater group 1927 in this production, which played to full houses in 2013 and is returning in February 2014. Close

Dominik Koeninger's Papageno, squirted in the face by an animated pink elephant in "The... Read More

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Photographer: Iko Freese/Komische Oper via Bloomberg

Dominik Koeninger's Papageno, squirted in the face by an animated pink elephant in "The Magic Flute" at the Komische Oper. The singers interact with animated graphics by the British theater group 1927 in this production, which played to full houses in 2013 and is returning in February 2014.

The touts operating in front of the Komische Oper are a sure sign that “The Magic Flute” is one of the hottest tickets in Berlin right now.

As we stood sipping Sekt on the sidewalk on a baking night, we watched a gang in action, signaling surreptitiously to each other and making concealed handovers from sleeves to pockets. The last chance to catch this enchanting staging this season is on July 4 and -- no surprise -- it’s sold out.

There may be a chance of getting tickets at the door. If not, it’s coming back in February next year. Book now to avoid disappointment. Alternatively, you can catch it at the Los Angeles Opera, where it will premiere in November.

This visual fantasia holds appeal for film buffs and art fans as well as opera aficionados with its magical projected animations. A cocktail-swilling pink elephant squirts Papageno in the face. A terrified Tamino fails to escape the giant preying legs of an arachnid Queen of the Night, who spins a literal web around him as she lures him into her intrigue.

Silent movies with 1920s bob hairstyles, surrealist clocks and eyes, gothic horror and fairytales combine to form a retro artistic vocabulary which seems very at home in Berlin.

Photographer: Iko Freese/Komische Oper via Bloomberg

Peter Sonn as Tamino in "The Magic Flute." The flute of the title is an animated fairy with butterfly wings who strews a ribbon of musical notes in her wake in this production. Close

Peter Sonn as Tamino in "The Magic Flute." The flute of the title is an animated fairy... Read More

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Photographer: Iko Freese/Komische Oper via Bloomberg

Peter Sonn as Tamino in "The Magic Flute." The flute of the title is an animated fairy with butterfly wings who strews a ribbon of musical notes in her wake in this production.

Shadow Cat

Characters fly over the roofs of houses, accompanied by an endearing spiky shadow cat. The elevator down to Sarastro’s underworld recalls Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis.” A trench-coat-clad Monostatos threatens Pamina with Red-Riding-Hood-style baying wolves on leashes. The flute is a butterfly-winged fairy who leaves a trail of musical notes in her wake.

It’s wonderfully lively and inventive, which it needs to be to grab the amount of attention that it has. After all, “The Magic Flute” is the most staged of all German-language operas.

The Komische Oper’s new Australian director, Barrie Kosky, collaborated with the British theater group 1927, comprising Suzanne Andrade and Paul Barritt. Kosky’s first season at the Komische Oper has been a successful one, with 75 percent of seats occupied compared with 66 percent in the previous season.

Much of the spoken dialogue of the original Singspiel is cut: Instead, silent-movie-style frames in cursive font give cropped versions of the text, accompanied by an 18th-century piano playing excerpts from Mozart fantasias.

While the visual pleasures come thick and fast, the staging never feels like overload. At times, the projections are pared down to just a white spotlight with the singer at the center, and the focus switches from the images to the performance.

Photographer: Iko Freese/Komische Oper via Bloomberg

Peter Sonn and Julia Novikova as Tamino and the Queen of the Night in "The Magic Flute." The production is showing for the last time this season on July 4. Close

Peter Sonn and Julia Novikova as Tamino and the Queen of the Night in "The Magic... Read More

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Photographer: Iko Freese/Komische Oper via Bloomberg

Peter Sonn and Julia Novikova as Tamino and the Queen of the Night in "The Magic Flute." The production is showing for the last time this season on July 4.

Flat Stage

Transforming the stage into a screen means that the staging is -- literally though never metaphorically -- flat, with the singers positioned on platforms at three different heights along a narrow strip at the front of the stage.

That limits their movements, yet the style of the staging calls for silent-movie exaggerated mime. Only Nicole Chevalier as Pamina managed to be particularly visually expressive in the performance I saw, helped by black lipstick, wide eyes and a dramatic heavy black lace dress for the scene where she threatens to commit suicide from the top of a projected cliff.

Beate Ritter was a powerfully vengeful Queen of the Night, surveying the stage from her spider’s perch at the top. The Komische Oper’s new Hungarian general music director Henrik Nanasi conducted. Rating: ****½.

For more information, go to http://www.komische-oper-berlin.de/ or http://www.laopera.com/

Muse highlights include Manuela Hoelterhoff on arts, Richard Vines on food and Greg Evans on movies.

To contact the writer on the story: Catherine Hickley in Berlin at chickley@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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