While Opera Omaha and the four other producing operas of “The Magic Flute” declined to reveal its overall cost, Opera Omaha general director Roger Weitz said scenery and costumes alone cost more than $1 million.
That's more than four times the cost of costumes and scenery for Opera Omaha's “Madama Butterfly,” which artist Jun Kaneko designed for the 2006 season.
Because the costs of “The Magic Flute” are shared among five companies, proportionately according to their annual budgets, it is not as costly as the most expensive opera mounted by Opera Omaha, “Wakonda's Dream” in 2007.
One reason “The Magic Flute” is so expensive is that Opera Omaha must rent the cutting-edge digital projection equipment needed for Kaneko's animated drawings. They will be projected onto nine screens, and sometimes as many as five screens at once.
While the show lasts about 2 hours and 40 minutes, the time total of the hundreds of separate videos for each of the nine screens is more than 12 hours, said Kevin Reiner, digital animator at Clark Creative in Omaha, who translated Kaneko's drawings into video.
Keeping all those screens in sync with each other, and with orchestra and singers whose timing varies nightly, required sophisticated electronic programming, flexibility in the length of the videos and careful rehearsal of hundreds of cues.
Lighting also posed special challenges, since bright light near the screens would wash out the color of the projections. Placing actors too near the screens would cause shadowing issues as well.
Nearly 100 costumes were custom-dyed and in some cases hand-painted to Kaneko's specifications.
Rather than sewing two-dimensional fabrics, costume construction often began with designing internal structure to support unusual shapes that almost defy gravity. A cotton net impregnated with thermal plastic that is heat-sensitive was used to mold some shapes while keeping costumes lightweight.
Orchestra, vocalists, running crew, publicity and more add to the cost of “The Magic Flute.”
Still, Weitz said, Opera Omaha could see its costs recouped. More than 92 percent of seats were filled for nine performances of “The Magic Flute” in San Francisco.
Companies elsewhere in the country have rented Kaneko's “Madama Butterfly” sets and costumes, recouping 80 percent of the cost. Ticket sales and gifts added more, and the show continues to be picked up elsewhere.
Weitz said “The Magic Flute” will be remounted in San Francisco after its runs in Omaha, North Carolina, Kansas City and the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Other opera companies both here and abroad could pick it up as well.
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