by Daniel Mesta, dramaturg
In the 1920s, silent film fever had reached its height. Hollywood was awash with new talent waiting to make their debut on the silver screen. Most actors came from the theatre or from vaudeville, making for a very distinctive style of acting. Gestures were large and expressions were larger. Scenes were theatrical in nature, often putting the camera in the place of an audience member and playing directly to the lens. Costuming was dramatic and characterizing, and the large, lush painted scenery of old Hollywood was on full display. The films took actors to exotic places and bizarre situations, often requiring them to dance or sing or play instruments — all skills inherited from live performance.
As the decade waxed on, however, the film industry developed rapidly. Americans quickly developed a taste for realism, abandoning the melodramatic antics of the early stars and the opulent sets of the first film designers for the subtle, realistic efforts of the late ‘20s. This was almost certainly influenced by a greater influx of cameramen, writers and actors from Germany, which was experimenting with naturalism and realism at the time.
BYU’s current production of The Magic Flute blends its fantastical plot, German overtones and lush design to emulate this time in film history while keeping true to the traditions of opera and orchestral performance. The three ladies combine the elegance of the European Baroque with a flashy splash of turn-of-the century Coney Island. Papageno and Papagena blend subtle Chinese and Balinese references with modern-day Las Vegas touches. Monostatos marries the striking makeup and facial expressions of the Medieval grotesque with a robe as shiny as a thousand camera flashes at a Hollywood premiere. A true love letter to a bygone era, this opera seeks to emphasize what was lost by time through the story of characters who are found by love.