30
May
12

The Magic Flute

The Magic Flute

QPAC Lyric Theatre

26th May – 8th June

Reviewed by Michelle Bull

Normally when I ask my guitarist fiancé to accompany me along to the opera, I am met with a resounding silence, followed by a groan that sounds like the death of a small mammal. It’s not that he’s uncultured; in fact he spends more time practicing his art than I do..…It’s just that when it comes to opera, most of it bores him senseless, and frankly quite often I feel the same.

So imagine my (delighted) disbelief when he politely insisted on coming along to the opening of Opera Australia’s The Magic Flute on Saturday night! Enticed by the fantastical spectacle of a slick advertising campaign, he donned his finest and together we joined the throng of faux furs and pearls cramming into the theatre for what was sure to be a spectacle of operatic proportions.

Showing at QPAC’s Lyric Theatre, this latest production directed by Matthew Barclay (original production by Julie Taymor) is a fantastical take on Mozart’s much loved opera. Creating a surrealist world through larger than life puppetry, costuming and sets, The Magic Flute is a colorful and magnificent fantasy that brings out the wondrous wide-eyed kid inside.

Sung in English and with a plot centered around mans search for love and his struggle to attain wisdom and virtue, The Magic Flute is to be enjoyed by those looking for some light entertainment to spice up their Saturday night as well as opera aficionados wanting to dig their teeth into themes of Masonic Ritual, good vs. evil, enlightenment, Egyptian symbolism and the mysterious rule of three embedded into the music and libretto.

There is some stunning singing by the cast. Stephen Smith as Prince Tamino gives a solid performance, his light tenor soaring rather effortlessly with a great sense of musicality. Equally as strong is Taryn Fiebig as Pamina. Her signature aria ‘I feel it, it is vanished’ (Ach, ich fühl’s) is sung with a beautiful sense of height and shimmering vocal colour, although personally I found the English translation not as complementary to the musical line as the original text in German.

Andrew Jones as Papageno is the epitamy of a cheeky, boyish bird catcher. Vocally rich and with a commanding stage presence, the physicality he brings to the role makes for an energy driven and holistic performance that wins the hearts of all.

I did feel however his character was affected by some characteristics of the translated libretto. Although the use of natural Australian accents throughout the production seemed at first a little too ‘familiar’ for the dreamlike world created onstage, it didn’t bug me as much as the colloquialisms sprinkled in for good measure. References to ‘Ice-magic’ and the odd ‘Mate’, I found distracting. Part of the appeal of this production for me was the escape into the illusions and while bringing in cultural relevance; I felt these adaptations were a tad superfluous.

There are however many inspired moments in the production. The Queen of the Night (Milica Ilic) is mesmerising and embodies a commanding presence onstage. The staging and execution of her aria ‘Hell’s vengeance boils in my heart (Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen) was a standout, sung with a wonderful sense of control and poise that did not detract from the freedom and agility of the sound.

Milica Ilic as Queen of the Night and Taryn Fiebig as Pamina. Image by Justin Nicholas.

I also particularly enjoyed Kanen Breen in the role of Monostatos whose embodiment of character both in voice and physicality reminded me of Commedia’s Pulcinella. Singing with a wonderfully legitimate weight and buoyancy to the voice Breen remained present vocally throughout some energetic staging, balancing a great character performance with legitimate singing. Breen’s energised performance was by far one of the standouts in this production for me.

Kiandra Howarth as the sweet-faced Papagena gives a short but vocally secure and well-rounded performance, sharing a wonderful playful chemistry with her Papageno.

Operatunity Oz winner David Parkin brings an authoritative rumbling Bass to the character of Sarastro that although impressive in timbre was at times overpowered by the orchestra in the bottom of his range, a fate also affecting the trio of First, Second and Third Ladies (Elisa Wilson, Victoria Lambourn & Tania Ferris) whose wonderfully balanced ensemble sound carried strongly but who lost some individual lines and dialogue under the swell of the orchestra. This was also the case with the three ‘Spirits’ (Jude Korab, Louis Backstrom & Campbell Hall), although the delicacy of their blended sound brought a fitting ethereal quality to their characters.

The Opera Australia chorus is a constant thrill and in this production is equally matched by puppeteers and dancers that provide a rich visual spectacle to the characters individual journeys. Queensland Symphony are also in fine form, supporting the artists with a mostly great sensitivity. Mozart’s score provides a wonderful tapestry of sound that allows Conductor, Anthony Legge, to drive the action onstage scooping the audience up in the arms of the familiar score.

So what was the verdict? Overall, Opera Australia’s The Magic Flute is a lovely production. Perfectly accessible and with something to ignite a sense of wonder inside the hearts of everyone wherever their operatic inclinations lie, I would encourage even those of you who don’t ‘like opera’ to give it a try…if an operatically-reluctant musician went home whistling Papageno’s aria and demanding a ticket to the next production that comes to town, it’s a pretty good recommendation.

Andrew Jones as Papageno. Image by Justin Nicholas.

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