Saturday, January 26, 2019

7 Things to love about "Zie Magic Flute"

Geeking out over the Milwaukee Opera Theatre

The Milwaukee Opera Theatre never ceases to amaze. It's opera for people who think opera isn't for them. There's crazy amounts of wit and artistry behind every production dreamt up by the marvelous Jill Anna Ponasik and her team of fellow creatives. 

This is the company's second mounting of Mozart's Zie Magic Flute beneath the Tripoli Shrine dome, and it's every bit a singular, wonder-filled spectacle. Let me tell you why.

(1) Location, location, location. 
The Tripoli Shrine Center, where architectural eye candy awaits! Open seating features simple banquet hall chairs encircling the shimmering, gilded, mosaic-laden dome. Arrive early to snag seats. Dare to sit front row for optimal views. Also, stay clear of the aisles, as performers and puppeteers flit in and out throughout the course of the show.

(2) The story.
Quick rundown: Princess Pamina has been kidnapped. Prince Tamino must seek to rescue her. There's a sidekick bird named Papageno who comes along for laughs. There's also some confusion as to whether Pamina's kidnapper, Sarastro (the great Mark Corkins), or Pamina's mother, the Queen of the Night, is actually the villain. Mayhem ensues! But happy endings (spoiler) are imminent. Gotta love a classic fairytale that ends in merriment.

(3) Oh Em Gee! Modern language makes you lol.
At the onset of Zie Magic Flute, we meet three supernatural emissaries of the Queen of the Night. You wouldn’t expect their beautiful voices to intone things like “No way, Jos√©!” or call our prince a “sexy boy” — but they do, to much laughter. So if you thought that opera equals seriousness, you’ll quickly learn that you thought wrong. 

That said, there are a number of songs that retain their native German, sometimes with actors holding up signs to give the audience the gist of what’s being sung about. Other times, you can read the translation in your program — or just relish in the transcendent beauty of the voices and forget worrying about what it all means. I tend toward the latter.

(4) Props to the props. And costumes! 
Bird kites, a toy viewfinder, duck calls, a jack-in-the-box, plush puppets, a shower of Raggedy Ann & Andys — many of the props used in Zie Magic Flute are actual toys, and that’s loads of fun. Others, from the cut-paper projected overture to larger-than-life puppetry, are absolutely enchanting in their fanciful artistry. Costumes are equally charming: a Bjork-inspired swan on roller skates, classic sorceress drag for the Queen, a bejeweled fez for the Sarastro — a nod to the Shriners. Eye-popping creations are everywhere.

(5) Those voices, though.
For all the humor and playfulness on display, Mozart's score still demands some serious skill. Across the board, the cast assembled here delivers with ease. Benjamin Ludwig's princely Tamino brings the most modern sound, nailing every classical note, while proving he'd make a killer frontman. Lydia Rose Eiche is a worthy Pamina for our prince, a mighty voice emanating from her petite frame. Lending support is the hilarious Nathan Wesselowski as the lovable dunce, Papageno, his sound classic baritone perfection. 

But step aside mortals — she's not called Queen for nothing. There's something otherworldly at work in the pieces of music written for this part. The Queen's solos elicit a sort of out-of-body awe can only be achieved by a voice that's up to the task. Sarah Richardson's Queen of the Night is downright fierce. Her vocal gymnastics leave jaws on the floor and souls soaring to the tippy-top of the Tripoli dome. In Richardson, Zie Magic Flute has indeed found its Queen. 

(6) Shout-out to all those spirits! 
Give it up for the spirit ensemble! They're a delightful, witty, wonderful chorus, guiding our protagonists on to their happy ending. Their blend of sweet song and laugh-aloud physical comedy is a joy.

(7) A chance to give in.
Zie Magic Flute requires that you give in. Give in to the whimsy. Give in to the playfulness of it all. Give in to the moments when you're not sure exactly what they're singing about (whether in German or sometimes-still-befuddling operatic English). Just embrace the beauty, the oddities, the menagerie of wonder of display. Bask in such an opera being sung so up-close and personal. Laugh along with this cast who so clearly delights in the magic they're making. This is theater that fills you up, if only you let it.

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