A Q&A with the creative team of The Magic Flute
How did you come up with the idea of staging The Magic Flute with 1927?
Barrie Kosky (stage director; Intendant and Artistic Director of Berlin’s Komische Oper): The Magic Flute is the most frequently performed German-language opera, one of the top ten operas in the world. Everyone knows the story; everybody knows the music; everyone knows the characters. On top of that, it is an “ageless” opera, meaning that an eight-year-old can enjoy it as much as an octogenarian can. So you start out with some pressure when you undertake a staging of this opera. I think the challenge is to embrace the heterogeneous nature of this opera. Any attempt to interpret the piece in only one way is bound to fail. You almost have to celebrate the contradictions and inconsistencies of the plot and the characters, as well as the mix of fantasy, surrealism, magic, and deeply touching human emotions.
Some years ago I attended a performance of Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, the first show created by the British theater company known as 1927. From the moment the show started, there was this fascinating mix of live performance with animation, creating its own aesthetic world. 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 Paul and Suzanne would be venturing into opera for the first time, because they were completely free of any preconceptions about it, unlike me.
The result was a very unique Magic Flute. Although Suzanne and Paul were working in Berlin for the first time, they had a natural feel for the city’s artistic ambiance, especially the Berlin of the 1920s, when it was such an important creative center for painting, cabaret, silent film, and animated film. Suzanne, Paul, and I share a love for revue, vaudeville, music hall, and similar forms of theater, and, of course, for silent film. So our Papageno is suggestive of Buster Keaton, Monostatos is a bit Nosferatu, and Pamina perhaps a bit reminiscent of Louise Brooks. But it’s more than an homage to silent film—there are far too many influences from other areas. But the world of silent film gives us a certain vocabulary that we can then use in any way that we like.
Is your love of silent film the motivation behind the name "1927"?
Suzanne Andrade (stage director/writer/performer; co-creator of 1927): 1927 was the year of the first sound film, The Jazz Singer with Al Jolson, an absolute sensation at the time. Curiously, however, no one believed at that time that the talkies would prevail over silent films. We found this aspect especially exciting. We work with a mixture of live performance and animation, which makes it a completely new art form in many ways. Many others have used film in theater, but 1927 integrates film in a very new way. We don’t do a theater piece with added movies. Nor do we make a movie and then combine it with acting elements. Everything goes hand in hand. Our shows evoke the world of dreams and nightmares, with aesthetics that hearken back to the world of silent film.
Paul Barritt (filmmaker; co-creator of 1927): And yet it would be wrong to see in our work only the influence of the 1920s and 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. There is no preconceived aesthetic setting in our mind when we work on a show. The important thing is that the image fits. A good example is Papageno’s aria “Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen” (A girl or a little wife). In the libretto, he is served a glass of wine in the dialogue before his aria. We let him have a drink, but it isn’t wine. It’s a pink cocktail from a giant cocktail glass, and Suzanne had the idea that he would start to see pink elephants flying around him. Of course, the most famous of all flying elephants was Dumbo—from the 1940s—but the actual year isn’t important as long as everything comes together visually.
Suzanne Andrade: Our Magic Flute is a journey through different worlds of fantasy. But as in all of our shows, there is a connecting style that ensures that the whole thing doesn’t fall apart aesthetically.
Barrie Kosky: This is also helped by 1927’s very special feeling for rhythm. The rhythm of the music and the text has an enormous influence on the animation. As we worked together on The Magic Flute, the timing always came from the music, even—especially—in the dialogues, which we condensed and transformed into silent film intertitles with piano accompaniment. However, we use an 18th-century fortepiano, and the accompanying music is by Mozart, from his two fantasias for piano, K. 475 in C minor and K. 397 in D minor. This not only gives the whole piece a consistent style, but also a consistent rhythm. It’s a silent film by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, so to speak!
Interview by Ulrich Lenz