Opera often has the reputation of being an elitist artform, yet much of its heritage lies in raucous popular performances for the masses. The latest production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute by Opera Australia is making a point of reaching out to wider Australian audiences.
Michael Gow, renowned Australian playwright and director, brings plenty of Aussie flair to this re-envisioned production of Mozart’s classic. The show’s concepts and design are filled with recognisable elements clearly aimed at making the production as accessible as possible to those new to the form, whilst managing to retain the impressive scale and glamour that opera is famous for.
Performed in English, rather than the traditional German, the translation goes one step further allowing a few Aussie phrases into the mix – but don’t worry, no one throws any shrimps on the barbie! The Australian accents in the short passages of linking dialogue were comfortably balanced with the more rounded vowels of the singing. The brief appearance of a Guard of Lifesavers, though a slightly out-of-place gimmick, was a nice nod to the venue.
The impressive set and costume designs by Robert Kemp, were less Australian in flavour, invoking a 1930s Indiana Jones style adventure in the Egyptian desert.
The first thing to strike you when you approach the site on the Gold Coast beach is the massive sandstone temple, complete with a pair of giant Sphinxes standing guard. The effort and skill involved in the design, engineering and construction of this stage set deserves both respect and adulation. The set was used to great effect, particularly during the trials of fire and water, and made truly spectacular by a burst of fireworks at the climax of the second act.
All the musical expectations of great opera deliver in this production. The main cast excelled in their roles and managed Mozart’s arias with grace, character and power. Janet Todd’s Pamina was beautifully coupled with the rugged and charming Tamino (Jonathan Abernethy). Jason Barry-Smith commanded the stage with his cheeky Papageno and his duet toward the end with Jessica Dean was delightful. Often the highlights of The Magic Flute are the arias performed by the Queen of the Night; these were handled with impressive control and exquisite delivery by Milica Ilic.
The vocal performances of the cast were flawless, as was the orchestra, under the direction of Simon Kenway. The production made good use of the Gold Coast Community Choir, part of Opera Australia’s national Community Choir program, who provided off-stage vocals and also served as the on-stage chorus. Though their choral work was faultless, they did lack some discipline in their stage presence. Never-the-less, the inclusion of the local singers and the feeling of community they brought added a pleasing spirit to the production.
The sound and lighting were also superb. I can only imagine the difficulties that arise from such a venue, particularly for sound, having to battlie wind and rain, and even the echo off nearby high-rises. The balance of the vocals and the orchestra, housed in an unseen tent behind the stage, were flawless. In fact, it was the best sound production I’ve experienced in a long time, even compared with the far more controlled environment of a theatre. Adrian Riddell and his team are to be highly commended.
The production was a creative triumph that also succeeded in attracting a wider than usual audience. Thousands of people came to the beach over the weekend not only to see The Magic Flute but also for the whole experience of Opera on the beach.
Congratulations to Opera Australia and the Bleach Festival for Opera on the Beach: The Magic Flute. I look forward to seeing many more such collaborations and inspired productions in the future.