New ‘Magic Flute’ boasts art, computers 

Design genuis: Paintings by Jun Kaneko provide the colorful set to San Francisco Opera’s new production of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” opening this week. - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy photo
  • Design genuis: Paintings by Jun Kaneko provide the colorful set to San Francisco Opera’s new production of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” opening this week.

“The Magic Flute” may be the most familiar offering in San Francisco Opera’s summer season, but a high-tech production opening this week at the War Memorial Opera House promises to live up to the challenge of presenting an old favorite in a new setting, while remaining faithful to the music.

Three thousand tempera-and-chalk paintings created by Jun Kaneko — being projected with pioneering Autodesk Inventor 3D software — are the backdrop to Mozart’s 1791 masterwork, which has received memorable productions in The City featuring designs by Gerald Scarfe and David Hockney.

San Francisco Opera General Manager David Gockley calls the upcoming show a “one-of-a-kind new production at the cutting edge of theatrical technology — the first all-digital production in our history.”

Digital motion animation for a 160-minute production on nine screens requires a unique coordination of artists and computers.

To prepare the design, Kaneko says, “I immersed myself in the opera by listening to it 200 to 300 times. ... It is like being in a heavy fog, knowing that something great is beyond it and, as it starts clearing, patiently seeing fantastic possibilities reveal themselves.”

His paintings, created “in sync to the rhythms of the music ... extend into lines, forming geometric patterns to cover the background and create a dramatic frame for the singers.”

And so, main characters Tamino (Alek Shrader) and Papageno (Nathan Gunn) are surrounded by a psychedelic world, while Pamina (Heidi Stober) and Papagena (Nadine Sierra), the objects of the heroes’ affections, live in their own, similarly colorful settings. The Queen of the Night (Albina Shagimuratova) shimmers in dark-blue material with reflective silver dots.

In another novelty, the opera is being presented in vernacular English, in a new translation by Gockley, who felt something “was missing” in a previous “Flute” in German: “I resolved our next ‘Flute’ would be once again done in English (with supertitles) and that I would personally be involved in the translation,” he says.

Gockley acknowledges that Icelandic bass Kristinn Sigmundsson, singing Sarastro, and Russian soprano Shagimuratova will put in extra effort “to learn a version of ‘Flute’ they may never do again.”


The Magic Flute

Presented by San Francisco Opera

Where: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., S.F.

When: 7:30 p.m. June 13, June 21, June 27; 8 p.m. June 16, June 19, June 29, July 6; 2 p.m. June 24, July 8

Tickets: $21 to $389

Contact: (415) 864-3330,

About The Author

Janos Gereben

Janos Gereben

Janos Gereben is a writer and columnist for SF Classical Voice; he has worked as writer and editor with the NY Herald-Tribune, TIME Inc., UPI, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, San Jose Mercury News, Post Newspaper Group, and wrote documentation for various technology companies.
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