The Lyric Opera wraps a magical opera in a warm blanket of nostalgia

Debuting in 1791, Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” was a whimsical tour de force extolling the virtues of friendship, mercy, reason and (some might say Masonic) brotherly love. The Lyric first premiered this wildly popular, family-friendly opera in 1966 to great acclaim; they’ve managed to make it even more accessible to the younger set with this beautiful version, helmed by director Neil Armfield and conductor Rory Macdonald. Their trick? Set this quintessential fairy tale in a play within a play, smack dab in “Leave it to Beaver”-era America.

If you go

Runs through Jan. 27

Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Dr., Chicago

www.lyricopera.org

The show opens with the neighborhood kids ready to stage a play outside of a home that could’ve been straight out of any classic sitcom. One by one, two by two (and dog by dog), the neighbors file in to grab a prime seat, help with last-minute costume or lighting adjustments and prepare to applaud wildly at their offsprings’ performances. (For its part, the house is a divine part of the set created by Dale Ferguson, with its slow rotations lending itself to the bustle and readying of the show, both inside and out.) Once the show begins and the character of Prince Tamino (Andrew Staples) takes the “stage” pursued by a fierce (and cardboard) dragon, however, it’s evident that this isn’t your usual pageant performed by Spanky and the gang. As the major players start to appear and the core story of a princess in need of rescue gets underway, the neighborhood fades and we find ourselves fully immersed in the tale of Princess Pamina (Christiane Karg), her vengeful mother (Kathryn Lewek), a high priest (Christof Fischesser), a couple of exceptionally helpful instruments and a sidekick (Adam Plachetka) worthy of any buddy picture.

Although performed in German, supertitles framing the stage allow for easy translation (and a bit of smugness for the newly competent reader at my side). The music and vocals are incredible and wholly enjoyable, regardless of opera-appreciation level and the casting impeccable. (The trio of genies, played by Casey Lyons, Parker Scribner and Asher Alcantara, are not only fantastic singers, but also add a dose of Howdy Doody adorableness with their sheriff stars and penchant for watching the action, cross-legged and rapt.)

According to my 7-year-old, the two absolute highlights of the show are when one playing of the flute draws a crowd of passerby animals (a particularly adorable panda and ostrich among them), and when the reunited prince and princess undergo a test through fire and water (utilizing some thoroughly cool video projection and shadow play).

Mozart was known for being a genius at many things; brevity wasn’t one of them. Clocking in at a little over three hours, this opera is definitely for your slightly older kids if you’re not taking in the matinee. But for those who are able to hang? Ooh boy, what a fantastic intro into the spectacular world of opera and a lovely evening with your cultured kiddo as well.

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