The Magic Flute meets The Lion King …
With colourful and ostentatious costuming that is reminiscent of Cirque Du Soile and giant puppetry with inspiration drawn from The Lion King, Opera Australia’s vision of The Magic Flute is a contemporary fantasy.
Originally created for New York’s Metropolitan Opera by Julie Taymor, with the vision to contemporize Mozart’s opera with a cut-down version has certainly made the production more accessible to a wider audience. The Brisbane director Matthew Barclay carries Taymor’s intentions through and non-opera theatre goers as well as children will appreciate the spectacular production which feels more like a musical than an opera with its modern English translation by American librettist JD McClatchy, and use of spoken word rather than recitative for story telling.
McClatchy points out the faithfulness to Mozart’s original style in the programme notes;
Mozart’s intention was to produce a singspiel that intersperses arias and ensembles with a sense of spoken dialogue.
At first the very ocker accent and use of ’strine’ slang by the character Papageno (played excellently by Andrew Jones) was a little jarring against the well produced classical singing style, but at the same time allowed Papageno’s comic character to be very cheeky and down to earth. Jones lifted the energy of the scene whenever he was onstage and was an absolute joy to watch. He is certainly the most engaging and accessible singer/actor to grace the opera stage I have seen to date.
Milica Illic was compelling as Queen of the Night, and showcased extraordinary vocals in the aria “Hells vengeance boils in my heart”. Illic’s stage presence was commanding and her costume design by Julie Taymor and Michael Curry was so spectacular it needed a team of puppeteers to execute.
The imaginative costuming, other worldly symbolic set design by George Tsypin, and lighting design by Gary Marder for the opera’s fantasy land, gave a feast for the eye and kept the audience’s attention the whole way through – a triumph for the non-opera theatre-goer whose attention span usually tends to wane throughout. The peahens on-pointe were particularly inspired (very Cirque Du Soile). The only slight let-down were the women’s chorus costumes which showed inconsistencies in the material for those audience members with the better seats.
Kanen Breen as Monostatos, who’s costuming was a magnificent bee-like fat suit with vampire wings and chicken claws. Hi pantomime villainy was fittingly creepy (and funny), and well executed.
Taryn Fiebig as Pamina was a strong performer in a role that for the most part assumes the impressionable fairer sex.
Stephen Smith played the hero role of Tamino with gentlemanly conviction, with a special mention going to the three boy sopranos who played the spirits. Their harmonizing and professional conduct was impressive.
Kiandra Howarth’s debut with Opera Australia at age twenty-two as Papagena was delighted to see her energy match the more seasoned and generous performer Andrew Jones, who could have outshone her.
The singing was as expected – exemplary, the orchestra flawless, the costumes extravagant, the puppets ginormous and the sets other wordly. What more could you ask from this contemporary fantastical production of The Magic Flute by Opera Australia. And although traditional opera lovers would have notably missed the overture and other musical passages, it is Opera Australia’s unique and fresh interpretation and ultimately appeal to a wider audience that heralds its success.