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PACIFIC OPERA PROJECT is a Southern California opera company known for its innovative productions. POP is faithful to opera tradition, but with out-of-the-box thinking that delights and enhances this classical genre.
As an example, POP’s La Bohème AKA “The Hipsters” is set each year among SoCal types, with costumes, sets, and props to match, sung in Italian but with zany English supertitles reflecting topical issues.
POP included two particularly ambitious productions in its 2019 schedule: Mozart’s Magic Flute with a video-game theme, and Puccini’s Madama Butterfly sung appropriately in Japanese and English.
Who says opera is a stodgy old art form?
Mozart Plays Video Games. As its name implies, even a traditional Magic Flute has fantasy aplenty, so why not set it in a video-game world of “Super Mario Brothers,” “Donkey Kong,” and “The Legend of Zelda”?
Mozart’s Pamina, costumed as Zelda, romances Prince Tamino, aka Link who’s immediately recognizable to video gamers by his foresty costume and pointy ears.
Mozart’s bird catcher Papagano is dressed as Super Mario. But any overt reference to the video-game plumber is quashed by insider whispers about lawyers and copyright. Of course, Papageno’s Papagena is costumed to resemble Mario’s Princess Peach.
It helped me to have video-game-knowledgable Daughter Suz at my side.
Like others in the POP Magic Flute, Donkey Kong aka Sarastro is true to Mozart’s theme of betterment through ordeal.
The video-game set designs, costumes, and occasional spoken asides don’t distract from the opera’s magic. They just add a dose of zaniness. For instance, can the magic flute actually have been an ocarina?
A Bilingual Butterfly. POP’s Madama Butterfly makes more sense than Puccini’s: In the original, there’s never a question of Cho-Cho-San and Pinkerton having any trouble talking to each other. All the characters in the opera, Japanese and American alike, know Italian.
In the POP Madama Butterfly, co-produced with Houston’s Opera in the Heights, Japanese roles (but for a marvelous Cho-Cho-San backup in the production we saw) are played by Japanese-Americans singing in Japanese. Nor do the American characters sing in Italian. Lieutenant B.F. Pinkerton, U.S. consul Sharpless, and, in a brief appearance at the end, Kate Pinkerton, sing their roles in English.
Consul Sharpless and matchmaker Goro are the opera’s only bilingual characters. In the POP production, conversations between Japanese and Americans are touchingly enhanced by these two offering whispered translations, as they would have in real life.
Not that opera ever follows strict confinement to reality. But POP’s thinking out-of-the-box is particularly delightful. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2019