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The Met’s meta, meta ‘Magic Flute’

Lawrence Brownlee (Tamino) and Erin Morley (Pamina) appear to float in the air in the new production of “The Magic Flute” at the Metropolitan Opera. (Karen Almond/MET Opera)
McBurney adapts a fable for our time

The Metropolitan Opera’s new production of Mozart’s light fantasy known as “The Magic Flute” has been upgraded to an intergalactic fairy tale.

Beginning at 10:55 a.m., a fresh, internet-age version of “Flute” will be livestreamed to the Vallecito Room at Fort Lewis College.

English actor/director Simon McBurney has reconceived the work with video artist Blake Haberman to include live projections, a variety of live sound effects, acrobatics and dreamy visions. Singers will appear to be suspended in the air – at least for part of the time. And live sound effects provided by 100 speakers surrounding the Met’s audience are sure to create a unique experience. It will be interesting to see if any of that magic translates into the FLC Student Union.

In 2012, McBurney first conceived of a new-and-revised version of Mozart’s quirky allegory about the human quest for meaning. At the Dutch National Opera, he embraced the latest in technology. He also grounded the production surprisingly with a respect for the past. On the Met’s website, you can read about the first production of “Flute,” which incorporated clunky sound machines to imitate rain, thunder, bird calls and clopping horses. So, McBurney decided to juxtapose high- and low-tech sound effects to enhance a new, magical world of “Flute.”

In addition to the 100 extra speakers, Foley Artist Ruth Sullivan will be part of the performance with a thunder sheet, among other devices. McBurney has placed her visibly on stage left in what may look like a crazy inventor’s lab or a “Wizard of Oz” figure with bells, whistles and other human-made sonic devices.

The story centers on Prince Tamino (tenor Lawrence Brownlee), who accepts the Queen of the Night’s charge to rescue her daughter, Pamina (soprano Erin Morley), from the supposedly evil priest, Sarastro (bass Stephen Milling). To do so, the Prince must pass a series of tests. His sidekick, the befuddled bird-catcher Papageno (baritone Thomas Oliemans), has his own problems. Together, the two men stumble through a universe filled with obstacles and odd creatures in pursuit of their own goals.

If you go

WHAT: The MET: Live in HD will present Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.”

WHEN: 10:55 a.m. Saturday.

WHERE: Vallecito Room of the Fort Lewis College Student Union, 1000 Rim Drive.

TICKETS: $28 general admission, $25 for seniors, $24 Met members, $12 students, available at the door.

MORE INFORMATION: Visit www.durangoconcerts.com or call 247-7657.

NOTE: Sung in German with English subtitles. Running time: three hours.

Despite a triumphant opening scene, the road to the inevitable happy ending is far from smooth. Fantastic creatures appear and almost derail the quest for love and freedom. Ultimately, “Flute” is a buddy opera with the Queen as a scary villainess. Be prepared when she (super soprano Kathryn Lewek) channels her rage and sings a blistering, tweet-storm of an aria.

In the last decade of the 18th century, Emanuel Shickaneder, a Viennese actor-impresario and fellow Freemason, urged Mozart to compose a popular opera to be sung in German. Both men needed money, and both believed in the ideals of Freemasonry – reason and balance.

Mozart created “Flute” for a popular audience, hence, the libretto in German, not the more conventional Italian. The form is known as a Singspiel, or song-play, the predecessor of today’s American musical theater. Songs are sung as “numbers” with connecting tissue in the form of spoken dialogue and stage business that drives the story forward.

Nathalie Stutzmann from the Atlanta Symphony will conduct, as she did most recently for the Met’s super-dark production of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni.” “The Magic Flute” will be a shining bright contrast. It runs a little over three hours.

Judith Reynolds is an arts journalist and member of the American Theatre Critics Association.