Eight months from opening night, the Auckland Arts Festival has announced its first show for 2019 — and while it's an opera, it's likely to be opera as New Zealanders have never seen it before.

A cast and crew of around 120 will travel from Europe to New Zealand with Komische Oper Berlin's production of The Magic Flute. The 227-year-old Mozart opera is one of the world's most popular but this sees it reimagined as an animated cartoon with live singers directly interacting with film animations.

The collaboration between Komische Oper's Australian artistic director Barrie Kosky, Suzanne Andrade, from British performance company 1927, and animator Paul Barritt is said to have "the enchantment of Buster Keaton's silent movies, the dark underbelly of Tim Burton and Nosferatu, and the whimsy and humour of early animated cartoons like Felix the Cat and Betty Boop".

Auckland Arts Festival Artistic director Jonathan Bielski says it makes for an "absolutely knock-out" show which is inventive, hilarious and simply outstanding.

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Around the world, reviewers have described it as endlessly inventive, a thing of wonder and a performance that must be seen to be believed. The New York Times went as far to say that "the production points the way toward a freer, more experimental style of producing opera, even in a mainstream context".

Since its 2012 premiere, The Magic Flute has played in 22 cities across the world and will travel to New Zealand after performances at the Perth and Adelaide Festivals.

Kosky says when he first saw the opera as a child, he was bored and didn't get the story of Prince Tamino, who sets out to rescue a damsel in distress.

Digital technology meets the 200-year-old opera in a new production of Mozart's The Magic Flute. Photo/Iko Freese/drama-berlin
Digital technology meets the 200-year-old opera in a new production of Mozart's The Magic Flute. Photo/Iko Freese/drama-berlin

Once he started to see it more as surreal fairy-tale, he could see the possibilities for taking it in new directions.

"Our production is one to which you can take everyone from your grandparents to your kids. I thought Berlin audiences reacted very positively to it — it's almost become a cult production there, with some people having seen it six or seven times — until I went to Los Angeles, where they were absolutely screaming with laughter. It also works well for seasoned opera audiences who are largely sick to death of The Magic Flute and delighted they can experience a fresh interpretation."

The Magic Flute will headline the 2019 Auckland Arts Festival and plays March 8 to 10 next year at the Aotea Centre's ASB Theatre. The full AAF 2019 programme will be announced later this year.