LACMA presents Frances Stark's Reinterpretation of "The Magic Flute"

by Sid Feddema

Since it premiered in Vienna in 1791, The Magic Flute has been a perennial favorite of opera fans from all generations, standing among the few works in the Western Canon that have proven their indelibility through the endless reinterpretation that they inspire. The story of a prince and a bird catcher who cross paths in their search for love and enlightenment accompanied by the Mozart's timeless score continues to enchant.

It is this tradition that world-renowned L.A.-based contemporary artist Frances Stark, whose work appears in the permanent collections of MOMA, LACMA, and the Tate Modern, expands with her latest project – a digital film adaptation of The Magic Flute, which premiered at LACMA on April 28th. Stark won the Absolut Art Award in 2015 for the concept, and Absolut generously provided the funds necessary to execute the idea as part of the award. Extensively researched and drawing from the original libretto as its primary visual focus, Stark's film seeks to unite contemporary art and music, bringing generations together to create a work of universal appeal in a new genre: 'pedagogical opera'. 

To realize the project, Stark collaborated with a wide variety of talent across disciplines, including conductor Danko Drusko who adapted Mozart's original score; producer H.B. Barnum; and a 26-piece orchestra made up of 10-19 year olds. Stark replaces the vocalists – perhaps the defining element of opera as an art form – with soloists who play the vocal melodies. The lyrics have likewise been translated and updated to speak to the present moment while maintaining a studied faithfulness to the original libretto. They appear onscreen as animations, highlighting the text itself and offering a deeper understanding of the relevance of the language, usually obscured from contemporary audiences by the original language and the flourishes of song. 

So why was the timing right to reinterpret The Magic Flute again? Stark has a cutting answer: "The brotherhood that originally fostered and is celebrated by The Magic Flute revered science, ancient culture and music, but  was, in fact, shut down by a tyrannical leader. The elite institutions that shape our contemporary experience and the leaders that control them are failing us, and their earth-threatening indifference to science and their disdain for culture that values kinship over capital leave us struggling to find sustenance in a world that doubts art's capacity to edify."