The Magic Flute - Opera Australia (NSW)
Composed by W A Mozart, Libretto by Emanuel Schikaneder
Reviewed by Claira Prider
Opera Australia, Sydney Opera House
Playing until March 16th
Charming and quirky, Opera Australia remind us why Mozart's 'The Magic Flute' is one of the world's most performed operas
The Magic Flute (Die Zauberflöte) is a singspiel (a comic sing-play which combines spoken word with singing) and the final opera Mozart wrote. A fairytale about friendship, forgiveness, and the importance of working together in harmony, this production focusses on bringing nature to forefront.
Director Kate Gaul’s vision presents the work through the eyes of a child and centres around our relationship with the environment and the importance of coexisting with nature. Utilising Michael Yeargan’s set from Opera Australia’s 1987 production of Werther, this production has a very analogue feel; with manually operated curtain backdrops, shadow puppets made from cardboard, handheld torches, and bare footed performers grounded in nature wearing everyday clothes. Performed in English, Gaul and Michael Gow’s contemporised, Australianised translation is charming and easy to follow.
With a spherical moon hanging in the centre of the sky, the opening scene is set in a large open garden at nighttime, with daisies scattered across the upward sloping, turf covered ground. Carrying torches and cardboard cut-out birds and animals, a handful of kids playfully enter the stage where they wander and create shadow puppets. The shadows and animals reoccur throughout the work with three-dimensional cardboard, structured animal face masks, reminiscent of Julie Taymor costumes. There are magical animals and threatened native fauna, I’m pretty sure I saw a unicorn and a frill-necked lizard up on stage. Verity Hampson’s lighting makes playful use of shadows and accentuates the juxtaposition of light and dark, sun and moon, King of the Sun, Queen of the Night.
The costuming by Anna Cordingley has an everyday feel, with the character roles wearing more bold, campy, and colourful ensembles. In the role of Papageno, Ben Mingay enters the theatre from the stalls, interacting with audience members as he saunters onto the stage in paint splattered overalls and carrying his Esky. While his vocal performance was not of Mozartian style, his stage presence was magnetic, a loveable characterisation with comedic ocker charm. Michael Smallwood’s Tamino was understated and warm, his vocal tone bright and resonant in the Joan Sutherland Theatre. Both men sport electric blue eyeshadow with drawn on black brows, looking a bit like nineties drag queens who just got home from a gig and have only taken half of their makeup off.
The Magic Flute - Opera Australia. Photos by Keith Saunders
Abbey Hammond, Zev Mann and James Valanidas play the three young spirits, with a more prominent presence than I’ve seen of any other Magic Flute production. The trio’s performance is musical and angelic (as well as obnoxious and funny). Their quartet with Pamina was one of my favourite scenes of the night. Stacey Alleaume is exquisite as Pamina. She has a rich and focussed tone and gives a breathtaking performance of her lamenting aria "Ach Ich Fühl's", translated in this production to “Now I know that love can vanish”.
Giuseppina Grech gives a sharp performance of the pink stiletto wearing Queen of the Night. On opening night, her first aria felt unstable, but intonation and coloratura settle significantly, and her second aria is grounded and edgy. The three ladies Jane Ede, Indyana Schneider and Ruth Strutt give Hocus Pocus vibes and their comic trio is a real highlight of the finale. David Parkin gives a commanding performance as Sarastro; king of the sun, Jennifer Black is a delightful Papagena and Kanen Breen’s performance as Monostatos is a comedic masterpiece. Under the baton of Teresa Riveiro Böhm the Opera Australia Chorus and Opera Australia Orchestra provide sensitive and faultless support and accompaniment.
This production is a fantastical and fun introduction for any first timers wanting to go to the opera; it has love and adventure, inhumanely high notes, fighting parents trying to kill each other, musical instruments with magical powers and it all ends with what looks like a pool party. There's a good reason The Magic Flute is one of the worlds most performed operas.
CONDUCTOR Teresa Riveiro Böhm (1–23 Feb) Tahu Matheson (29 Feb–16 Mar)
DIRECTOR Kate Gaul
SET DESIGNER Michael Yeargan
COSTUME DESIGNER Anna Cordingley
LIGHTING DESIGNER Verity Hampson
MOVEMENT DIRECTOR Andy Dexterity
ENGLISH TRANSLATION Kate Gaul and Michael Gow
SET DESIGN CONSULTANT Richard Roberts
PAMINA Stacey Alleaume
TAMINO Michael Smallwood
PAPAGENO Ben Mingay
QUEEN OF THE NIGHT Giuseppina Grech
SARASTRO/SPEAKER David Parkin
FIRST LADY Jane Ede
SECOND LADY Indyana Schneider
THIRD LADY Ruth Strutt
PAPAGENA Jennifer Black
MONOSTATOS Kanen Breen
ARMED MAN/PRIEST 1 Gregory Brown
ARMED MAN/PRIEST 2 Nathan Lay
SPIRITS Elijah Alkhair, Estelle Gilmovich, Abbey Hamond, Zev Mann, Thomas Prowse and James Valanidas