If you're not an "opera person," the word opera probably calls to mind visions of shrieking, busty women in blonde braided pigtails and horned Viking hats.
Here are some things it probably does not call to mind: cults, Helena Bonham Carter, Octomom, "Gangnam Style," an acid trip at the zoo.
So if The Magic Flute, the current production by Florida Grand Opera, is your first exposure to the world of opera, you're going to be very surprised. Because you'll get none of the former, and a mind-trippingly giant portion of the latter.
This is one freaky show, starting out as a German fairy tale, transforming into a religious allegory, and leaving audience members feeling like they're still coming down from one seriously potent psychotropic substance. We can't say we understood it, even with subtitles -- but maybe we just weren't open-minded (read: stoned) enough. And that's a shame, because The Magic Flute is filled with moments that would've been greatly enhanced by a little altered brain chemistry. For example:
Billed only as "First Lady," "Second Lady," and "Third Lady" (Lacy Sauter, Cynthia Cook, Carla Jablonski), these are not your average opera chicks. They sashay on stage looking like full-grown cousins of Helena Bonham Carter in Alice in Wonderland -- curly red hair, ghoulish makeup, and eye-catching dresses with fluttering spades down the skirts. They're funny, and kind of evil, and yeah, they weirdly fall in love with main character Tamino (Andrew Bidlack), who is a child. But they're also like something out of a Tim Burton movie, which is to say: trippy.
The Magic Flute Zoo
When Tamino plays his flute for the first time, he learns it has Disney-like powers over the animals of the forest, drawing a lion, a monkey, a unicorn, and other fantastical creatures out of the darkness to dance around the stage. The smiling, unmoving masks the animals wear look more murder-y than magical, though. Maybe we've been too into Hotline Miami lately, but that unicorn straight freaked us out.
Pamina, a German Alice
Speaking of Alice in Wonderland: It's become one of the most drug-friendly fairy tales of all time. And the object of Tamino's affections, Pamina, certainly invites the comparison to the Disney version of Alice, with her blonde hair, blue dress, and innocent demeanor. Clearly, this is a sign of trippy-ness to come.
The Magic Cult
Wikipedia tells us that The Magic Flute is an allegory about the education of civilization, shown through the battle between the Queen of the Night (Jeanette Vecchione) and the "enlightened" temple ruler Sarastro. (We'll put "enlightened" in quotes, because this Sarastro guy has some pretty backwards ideas about women.) To the uninitiated audience member, however, The Magic Flute is the story of a young boy who goes to sleep and dreams of getting mixed up in a freaky sun-worshipping cult, pausing briefly before joining to force its members to dance "Gangnam Style." (That's not a joke, by the way. Yes, we have seen operatic actors imitate PSY on the Arsht Center stage, and yes, it was as hallucinatory as you might imagine.)
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The Rainbow Kids
Tamino's dream-friend Papageno (Jonathan G. Michie) also spends most of the opera looking for a wife. He's pursued by the conveniently named Papagena (Hye Jung Lee), who appears to him first as an old lady, then transforms into the beautiful wife he's been searching for after he agrees to settle for a wife who grosses him out rather than go without a wife at all. (Romantic!) Papagena also turns out to be the Octomom of the German opera; suddenly, a gang of kids in brightly colored wigs storm the stage, and we learn that they're the couple's Papagenitos. The couple sings happily about the development; we look forward to their TLC reality show.
Follow Ciara LaVelle on Twitter @ciaralavelle.