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Hottest Ticket in Berlin Features Flying Pink Elephants

'The Magic Flute'
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. Photographer: Iko Freese/Komische Oper via Bloomberg

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.

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.

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.

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What the Stars Mean:
*****      Excellent
****       Very good
***        Average
**         Mediocre
*          Poor
(No stars) Worthless

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

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