Like a good adventure, there are surprises waiting around almost every turn in the Music Center Opera’s new rainbow-hued production of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,” which debuted at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Thursday.
Director Sir Peter Hall and designer Gerald Scarfe have created a visually stunning, semi-Egyptian wonderland, populated by a mad menagerie of colorful beasts festooned in the zaniest of costumes. There’s a psychedelic serpent of “King Kong” proportion, a temple that rests on two gigantic feet and a multipurpose pyramid that can turn more tricks than a box of Legos.
The wizard behind the whimsy is Scarfe, the cartoonist-turned-opera designer. But unlike his “Orpheus in the Underworld,” which was presented here at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in 1989 as an oversexed pop-up book, this production is no cartoon. It is an interpretation of the opera that pays strict attention to details, while expressing them in an exuberant personal language of color, shape and texture.
There is also an abundance of beautiful music, compliments of Mozart, which is led ardently by conductor Randall Behr.
The plot, attributed to the actor and entrepreneur Emanuel Schikaneder, has been interpreted as everything from a symbolic puzzle of the human psyche to a coded message on the secrets of Freemasonry; or simply as a fragile fairy tale. It has been performed by wooden marionettes and, on more than one occasion, by wooden actors.
Thursday, Peter Hall and Co. did their best to balance whimsy with wisdom. They allowed the opera’s humor to take its rightful place, while amplifying a deeper theme, about a world made whole through the unification of its masculine and feminine elements.
Vocally the production is supported by an array of bright young talent, particularly soprano Ann Panagulias as the Princess Pamina, and Kurt Streit as her Prince Tamino.
Panagulias’s Pamina is a pleasant mixture of delicate charm and self-assured independence. Streit has a voice with exactly the desirable combination of lightness and clarity that roles like Tamino require.
Musically, Behr strove to bring out the textures and nuances in Mozart’s score. And to a large degree he succeeded.
On the technical side, Richard Pilbrow’s lighting scheme and elaborate projections accentuate Scarfe’s forests, deserts and temples. The remarkable costume visualizations were supervised by Anna Watkins. And the wild array of animal designs were brought to life by Vin Burnham.
Performances continue through Feb. 6.