I have wanted to see Mozart’s The Magic Flute for so long. The “happy” opera, full of playfulness, colour and magic, a welcome change from my more recent (brilliant) but tragic La Bohemes and Don Carlos’. And boy was everyone correct! The Magic Flute is absolutely the happy opera.
The first thing I noticed about Opera Australia’s latest production is that it is of course in English, at first it’s quite jarring but you eventually settle into the feeling and it is rather nice not to have to dart quickly between reading the surtitles and watching what is actually going on (although I did still find myself reading them, a creature of habit).
The second thing I noticed was how interactive the characters are with the crowd, not in the direct sense, but in a most awareness sense. I think this helps to make the opera accessible, as the characters are often looking directly out into the audience and when they performing it is to us, rather than the usual more distant opera performance. Their expressions are also helped along by the bright character makeup, which also makes it easier to understand the characters feelings.
Thirdly I noticed how rapidly everything kept moving on, very unusual for an opera, who is usually quite comfortable in staying in the one set singing about opening a door for an entire act. Not here! New songs are starting, sets are changing, puppets are appearing- everything moves along to the same fast paced tune of the opera itself.
Combined of course, all three things serve the great purpose of this particular opera- accessibility. In particular to it’s younger audience members, for there were several children in the audience and their attention was rapt in the constant goings-on on the stage. This is the perfect introduction of that younger demographic to the fine art, for it also manages to sacrifices none of splendor and glorious singing that we love and its story contains several valuable morals.
The cast is simply superb but the real standouts are Tamino (John Longmuir) and Papageno (Samuel Dundas), the heroes on the journey of our story. They were absolutely incredible, each comfortably interchanging from spoken word to soaring song and playing happily across the stage. This opera gives the performers a little more freedom to act their character, with more of a balance of spoken word and aria than normal. Both had such spectacular emotion in both their voice and their face- truly a delight to watch.
The set though! WOW! This glorious magic box spins and changes and moves and transforms and lights up and there’s stairs here and ladders there and just wow. Combine this with the beautiful giant puppets and you really have an abstract, colourful world of wonder.
Papageno! Papageno! The Magic Flute will be playing at the Sydney Opera House until the 16th January. For more information visit www.opera.org.au
The reviewer attended the 7:30pm performance on the 7th January.
Photo credit: © Branco Gaica