Wolfgang Mozart was no traditionalist; he liked to push the envelope, taking on controversial source material and asking vocalists to go to extremes, sonically speaking.
I get the feeling that Mozart would have liked what Mixed Precipitation does with "The Magic Flute." The Twin Cities company is taking to green spaces around Minnesota a version of the opera that stands as the most clever thing it's created in its 14 summers of "picnic operettas" and "pickup truck operas."
While lending some very fine voices to the arias, duets and quartets, it also gives the story a satirical twist about modern American work life, throwing in plenty of pop from the early '90s that fits the theme. And the script by Francisco Benavides is a hoot.
In your average "Magic Flute," the hero is sent on a quest by a vengeful queen to rescue a daughter held captive, joined on his journey by a bird catcher comic sidekick. In Mixed Precipitation's version, Tamino is a middle school teacher new to the profession and his companion a janitor. The queen is the principal mourning the loss of her best teacher, and the princess is now developing educational software for SarastroCorp, a company that touts itself as enlightened (kombucha on tap, daily yoga and mandatory dance breaks), but has some bad old-school corporate habits.
So the Mixed Precipitation brand of opera isn't for purists. But Mozart may have liked his opera being interspersed with contemporary folk forms like funk, R&B and whatever you want to call They Might Be Giants songs. And he wouldn't have minded hearing his own instrumental score being played primarily by a trio of electric guitar, violin and cello, with a touch of melodica and, of course, flute.
The performance I caught was a preview at the Loppet Trailhead in Minneapolis' Theodore Wirth Park, and the production was in fine fettle for a first time in front of audiences, director Taous Khazem creating a breezy, movement-filled staging ideal for a summer evening.
I'm sorry more Twin Cities audiences won't have the opportunity to experience one of the most engaging portrayals of the princess Pamina that I've encountered. Jennifer LeDoux has a great combination of a strong yet subtle voice and a persona that exudes the exasperation of the consistently underestimated. Corissa Bussian takes over the role on Aug. 19.
Another standout was Julia Engel as the Queen of the Night, or, excuse me, Principal Von der Nacht, who hit those legendary high notes with such fury that the audience couldn't wait until the end of the aria to applaud. She's left the show, but, having experienced Lizz Windnagel's impressive vocal skills before, I'm betting the part's in great hands.
There's strong singing throughout the cast, from tenor Roland Hawkins' sweet-toned, amiable take on Tamino to Nick Miller's very believable frumpy everyman of a Papageno to Rodolfo Nieto's tech magnate Sarastro, deliverer of booming low notes and convoluted business speak that's some of the sharpest satire in the script.
And compliments to music director Gary Ruschman and his fellow instrumentalists, especially cellist Uchenna Chidozie, who doubles on the titular instrument to fine effect.
Mixed Precipitation's "The Magic Flute"
When and where: Through Sept. 11 at 11 venues in Minnesota and Wisconsin
Tickets: $10-$25, available at mixedprecipitation.org
Rob Hubbard is a Twin Cities classical music writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.