Tag Archives: Ben Bliss
Currently in its second year, LA Opera’s Cast to Class program brings opera singers into schools and students to the opera house. Opera singers travel to schools around Los Angeles County speaking to students about their craft, and then those same students attend a mainstage performance at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and see the singer in action. The goal of the program—as with all of our education and community initiatives—is to break down the barriers between opera and the community.
However, in the past two years other, somewhat unexpected and beautiful results, has emerged.
The Magic Flute has started enchanting audiences with its silent film inspired magic. In case you’ve missed the Flute love these past few weeks (or want to learn more before seeing the show), we’ve collected a bunch of articles and videos for you to check out and see why The Magic Flute is a must-see this opera season.
Get To Know The Magic Flute
There is usually a pretty standard way of rehearsing opera. The director has a concept for the production – a vision that has been in play with designers and production staff years ahead of the first rehearsal. When singers do arrive, they spend time with the director, reaching a compromise on character choices, and perfecting their knowledge of the music. Sometimes bits of music are cut out; other times bits of music are added. This whole process starts in rehearsal rooms then moves onto stage within a matter of weeks. The rehearsal process for The Magic Flute is entirely different. Learn more.
Barrie Kosky, Susanne Andrade, and Paul Barritt’s production of The Magic Flute is heavily inspired by the silent film era and the spirit of the roaring twenties. In Kosky’s words, “Papageno is suggestive of Buster Keaton, while Monostatos is a bit Nosferatu, and Pamina perhaps a bit reminiscent of Louise Brooks.” There are a plethora of silent films to check out before seeing The Magic Flute, as the silent film era was a rich time for the industry. Filmmakers explored the artistry of the cinematic medium, creating new stories and adapting classic – even operatic – works for a new audience (King Vidor’s excellent 1926 La Boheme film is definitely worth a movie night). Before you step into the world of The Magic Flute, here are a few silent films to watch to get you in the 1920s spirit.
The Magic Flute is a roaring-twenties set vision. It has the beauty of a classic Louise Brooks film (like Pandora’s Box) , but live. Here, the production team – Suzanne Andrade, Barrie Kosky, and Paul Barritt – talk about the concept behind their vision for Mozart’s fantasy opera.
For Ben Bliss, playing Tamino in Mozart’s The Magic Flute is like coming home. Not only is he back at LA Opera (he was part of the Young Artist program from 2011-2013), but Tamino was also the first opera role Bliss ever sang.
As an undergrad at Chapman University studying film, Bliss also sang in the choir. When his voice coach threatened to lower his grade if he didn’t try out for The Magic Flute, Bliss auditioned and won the role of Tamino. It was a defining moment, because even after a few years’ stint working for Dr. Phil post-college, Bliss couldn’t quite shake the opera bug and has been singing ever since.
A celebration of true love conquering all, The Magic Flute transports us into an enchanted world where good faces the forces of darkness. It follows the story of Prince Tamino, who is tasked by the Queen of the Night to rescue her daughter, Pamina, from the supposedly evil Sarastro.
Tamino is a fun character to tackle. “The music is divine and there are so many different directions you can go with the character,” says Bliss. His favorite Tamino moment occurs in Act I, when Tamino finds himself at the gates of Sarastro’s kingdom. He sings a dialogue with an animated Speaker, who guards the gates. It’s an interesting scene, because it’s the first time in the opera that Tamino thinks the Queen of the Night might be lying to him about Pamina’s situation. Is Sarastro really the evil one? Bliss also enjoys the scene, because it’s unlike many other tenor moments in Mozart operas. It’s a conversation as opposed to a moment when everything stops, so the tenor can sing gloriously about how much he loves the soprano.
There is usually a pretty standard way of rehearsing opera. The director has a concept for the production – a vision that has been in play with designers and production staff years ahead of the first rehearsal. When singers do arrive, they spend time with the director, reaching a compromise on character choices, and perfecting their knowledge of the music. Sometimes bits of music are cut out; other times bits of music are added. This whole process starts in rehearsal rooms then moves onto stage within a matter of weeks.
The rehearsal process for The Magic Flute is entirely different.
Our production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute is inspired by the silent film (and early “talkie”) era and is comprised entirely of projected film. Singers stand on stage or on platforms that are 9ft high off the ground, 18” in diameter, and attached to a giant wall. Animated video (in the style of Max Fleischer cartoons or the classic Disney “Skeleton Dance”) is projected onto the wall behind the singers. The singers cannot see what’s behind them, despite the fact that they interact with the animation projected (at one point an animated bird lands on Pamina’s hand).
In a regular opera, there’s some forgiveness, the orchestra, the staging, pretty much everything can adjust in real time. For this opera – there’s none of that.
The required precision means that all character decisions for the singer have already been made by the director (and there are no bits of music being added or taken out). As the film designs and animations are already set, there’s no room for compromise.
Singers also have an added job in rehearsal. They must learn highly choreographed movement that cannot be altered during a performance. If, for example, Monostatos is going to be pulling a dog’s leash at this point in the projection and at this point in the music, his hand has to be in that exact spot for it to look like he’s interacting with the animation. To hit their marks, singers practice with the set and projections as soon as possible, as opposed to only when they arrive on stage for tech rehearsals. They also must rehearse in the dark for the projections to be seen.
It’s not only the singers that are learning the show earlier in the process. The staging staff and crew are learning and planning for highly choreographed work. This show has one stage manager and three assistant stage managers (“ASMs”). The stage manager calls the majority of the 666 cues in the show from a secluded area front of house. That’s 2-3 times as many as there are in most other shows. And, unlike other shows, 25% of the cues are visual instead of the usual 5%. The stage manager must be able to see the projections and know the show well enough to call a cue on time or ahead of time to prepare cast and crew.