The Magic Flute – W A Mozart, Libretto: Emmanuel Schikaneder.
Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House January 10th 2014.
Coinciding with the numerology of Mozart’s 1791 singspiel, there are three pillars of wisdom to be accepted in appreciating this production of The Magic Flute. First, it is sung in English not in the original German; second, it is shortened to just over 90 minutes from just under 3 hours; third, it is aimed reaching out to a younger demographic of 8+ year olds without losing too much of its appeal to adults.
That said, a certain childlike faith and suspension of belief are indeed an advantage in following the jagged storyline of this eclectic piece with libretto by impresario and singer Emmanuel Schikaneder, creator of several ‘machine-comedies’ of the era and who also premiered the role of Papageno.
Julie Taymor’s 2006-7 Metropolitan Opera production is being reprised in Sydney by Opera Australia after its premiere here in 2012. It re-creates perfectly with its puppetry, masks and stage and costume design, the magic and wonderment of the pantomime. The costumes reflect the universality of the conflicts and twists in the narrative which is set in no defined place or time. Whilst Tamino is dressed as a Samurai warrior, Sarastro evokes ancient Egypt; Monostatos leaps straight from the stage of a circus and Pamina could be Alice in Wonderland, Dorothy or any little girl in the audience seeking her dreams.
There were strong vocal and dramatic performances all round with well matched casting – Andrew Jones as the garrulous and libidinous Papageno; John Longmuir as Tamino whose singing was as noble and elegant as his character; Taryn Fiebig, pure of voice and persona as Pamina. Morris Robinson provided a rich and rumbling bass as Sarastro, Kanen Breen played a grotesque Monostatos, and Jane Ede, Sian Pendry and Dominica Matthews made a superb trio as the Three Ladies. Milica Ilic, who was heard in Sydney about a year ago as soprano soloist in the Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s presentation of Carmina Burana certainly had the range and an impeccable technique for her role as Queen of the Night. However, for me, her voice lacked the heft demanded by the role.
The diction in the delivery of J. D. McClatchy’s catchy English version of the German libretto, sat well with the musical line and was excellent all-round, requiring hardly a glance at the English surtitles.
Conductor and Associate Music Director of Opera Australia Anthony Legge led his musicians in a marvelous creation of Mozartian grace and humour; the Australian Opera Chorus, under Chorus Master Anthony Hunt, was, as always, unflinching in its commitment to excellence.
Opera Australia has endeavoured to make this production meaningful to younger audiences, from its school holiday scheduling to special prices and integrated puppet workshops for children. Fittingly, the audience on opening night reflected this, impeccably behaved and even offering interactive hints as Papageno worked through his existential crisis, adding to the entertainment and the broad appeal which this piece was intended to display.
The downside? The abbreviated version exaggerated a lack of continuity in an already rambling tale; the English language and the shortened version can leave a sense of the incomplete; the mechanical set changes were somewhat noisome and detracted from the singing, especially during the fragile peals of the Three Spirits.
Forewarned is forearmed and once the parameters are known, it is an excellent night at the opera.
Shamistha de Soysa for SoundsLikeSydney©
The Magic Flute is on at the Joan Sutherland Theatre of the Sydney Opera House until March 26th 2014.