Opera Reviews
28 July 2021
Untitled Document

This Magic Flute is all about delight

by Harriet Cunningham
Mozart: The Magic Flute
Opera Australia
10 January 2014

Photo: Branco GaicaProductions of The Magic Flute tend to go one of two ways. They are either heavily layered with meaning - Masonic symbology, perhaps, with gender politics and Enlightenment philosophy thrown in -- or they are colourful and spectacular, with an emphasis on entertainment. Julie Taymor's production, originally designed for New York's Metropolitan Opera, but rebuilt for the Sydney Opera House stage, is the latter.

George Tsypin's costumes and Julie Taymor's puppet-powered magic make for a visually captivating evening. The Brotherhood are dressed in geometric, sculptural creations, emphatically two-dimensional. The Three Ladies are three voices and three masks, with expressions frozen in all-purpose astonishment. Papageno and Tamino meet dancing polar bears and flamingos and the three Spirits draw the short straw, costume-wise, shuffling on in loincloths, beards and spikey wigs. There is, for me, no rhyme or reason to this production's improbable look, and that's not a criticism: it is a grand pantomime of the unexpected.

Musically, it is less of a surprise, with conservative tempi and an efficient but slightly muted orchestral sound (which is perhaps due to the catwalk running around the front of the pit). In previous seasons Opera Australia has taken the opportunity to field younger artists in this lively production, with mixed results. This time round the cast is still mostly youthful, but consistently strong, musically and dramatically. Even John Longmuir, in the slightly thankless role of Tamino, makes gorgeous sounds to enhance his princely pacing. Morris Robinson is a mesmerising Sarastro and Taryn Fiebig is a silvery-toned but streetwise Pamina. The three ladies are a versatile bunch, juggling masks and singing with precision and clarity, while the three boys will no doubt relax into the roles over the course of the season. Kanen Breen is brilliant in the character role of Monostatos, flashing his belly with glee. Meanwhile newcomer Milica Ilic, as Queen of the Night, gives a tense but accurate account of "O zittre nicht", and a pacy, thrilling "Der Hölle Rache".

In the end, however, this is young Australian baritone Andrew Jones's show. It is impossible not to warm to his Papageno, a humble Everyman who embodies the very childlike delight that Mozart's music engenders. He turns up the ocker accent for maximum comic effect and yet, when he breaks into song, it is a rich and regal sound, beautifully phrased and focused.

Not everything worked on first night: the serpent's head got stuck, Papageno's hat fell off and a very young operagoer shouted out a loud "two" after Papageno began his count. They might want to leave the mistakes in, because the audience loved it all the more. There may be secrets buried in Mozart and Schikaneder's final money-spinner, but this two-hour version is all about delight. Not deep, but just the thing for a Sydney summer holiday.

Text: © Harriet Cunningham
Photos: © Branco Gaica
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