'Magic Flute' a virtual success

University Theatre on Saturday opened its final show of the season at Kansas University, a virtual reality staging of Mozart's opera "The Magic Flute."

The Crafton-Preyer Theater stage was mostly bare, save for a few wooden benches and a wheeled platform, all of which moved throughout the performance. But the centerpiece was the tech-savvy backdrop: real-time virtual reality settings. The opera was performed in German, interspersed with English dialogue.

First staged in 1791, Mozart's opera is a comic fantasy about love, centered on the story of Prince Tamino (Joshua Mochel) and his pursuit of Pamina (Soyoun Lim), daughter of the Queen of the Night (Ashley Elizabeth Winters). Armed with only a magic flute, Tamino's quest to save his beloved from the feared Sorastro (Benjamin Winters) consumes most of the first act.

The second act revolves around Tamino's trials (placed upon him by Sorastro) as he attempts to join Sorastro's order and prove himself worthy of Pamina's love. There is also a subplot featuring Tamino's would-be sidekick, Papageno (David Lara) and his quest to find love. Papageno serves as something of a comic fool, a bird catcher armed with magic bells.

Lara was the standout performer, along with Andrew J. Graves as Sorastro's slave Monostatos. Their parts weren't as substantial as others, but these character actors' roles allowed them to have fun with the material. While the acting during the first half of the show was at times stiff and the dialogue sometimes too quiet, the performers' voices were otherwise up to the challenge of performing Mozart, and the KU Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Steven McDonald, served them well.

Problems that plagued the first act were, for the most part, eliminated in the second, as both the pace and the story picked up and the performers seemed to settle into their roles.

Stephen Hudson-Mairet's lighting design and Ione Unruh's costume design strongly complemented each another. Their use of bright colors echoed well the comedy and fantasy on stage. The virtual reality backing made the show all the more fantastical, as VR scenarist Mark Reaney added atmosphere and personality to the stage, making the scenery itself a compelling character.

"The Magic Flute" continues today and next weekend; two casts take turns performing the show, which lets performers rest and allows for slightly different interpretations of the opera.

-- Aaron Passman is a Kansas University journalism student.


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