There’s not much by way of set design in LA Opera’s presentation of Mozart’s The Magic Flute. A wall with several openings stands on stage. In the eaves are two structures for the chorus to inhabit. Beyond that, the stage is bare. All lighting and design come from Paul Barritt’s animations projected from the rear of the house. Barritt, Suzanne Andrade and Barrie Kosky collaborate to create an otherworldliness well in line with the opera’s story. Conductor James Conlon, who worked with Kenneth Branagh on the most recent film adaptation of Mozart’s last music, acknowledges in pre-performance lectures the ethereal nature floating throughout the piece.
The rehearsals are powered by pianos and pulleys. By voices and directors blocking movements. By stagehands and costumers and administrative office people. People move with computer precision. A technical director ushers media through the back of the house, eager to have them out of his hair, and when you see the performance you know why. It happens quickly, precisely, the back of the house rising to meet the scope of the front note by note.
Los Angeles is a town built on magic and lies, tricks of light and overinflated happenstance. Rumors power careers. Decisions hover and become routine without dedicated theorems, or basic logic. And the stagehands and costumers and animators and musicians backing performers reduce distraction. Their pulleys, their cameras, their bows, their thread lines, and their dexterity push the light into our eyes.
What might be distilled, will. What can be assumed, should. And when the Queen of the Night stretches into the high F as the conductor’s arms become outsized shadowy bats on the house walls, all material assistance evaporates. The lights come up and the red curtain is alone on the stage. No one delivers this sort of magic just for the bow. But when the performers do bow, they do it for the back-of-the-house gang too.