Directed by Matthew Barclay
Conducted by Rory Macdonald
Joan Sutherland Theatre
The Opera House, Bennelong Point
Season (see website for exact performance dates): 30 December – 16 January
There are boundless opportunities in story telling, and it is wonderful how some are able to harness the potential to appeal to children and adults alike. Opera Australia’s The Magic Flute does just this. Elaborate set and costume designs radiating bombastic colours are exceptionally stunning. Throw in some adroit puppeteering, a faultless cast with exquisite operatic vocal work, and I think there’s a pretty great chance you’ll enjoy yourself.
The Magic Flute tells a tale where light and truth prevail over evil, allowing love to endure. Set to Mozart’s splendid composition and writing, the full opera has been slightly shortened, I assume to cater for shorter attention spans. It left me wishing there were more to come at its close, and even in my wishful state I can realise how great it is when artists tap into audience desire. The opera has been translated to English from its original German, by JD McClatchy - a hefty task indeed. I can see the benefits in making the storyline clear and accessible to an English-speaking audience through translation, however I do like seeing Opera in a language other than English, as it compels you to rely on the feeling and dynamics of the music, as well as physicality of the performers to understand the story. Thus, the translation offers a somewhat different experience, also including spoken dialogue occasionally between the musical pieces. Many jokes were inserted throughout the narrative, ensuring continual entertainment, and affording an advantage in its translated form.
Julie Taymor, esteemed for her award-winning work with The Lion King musical, originally created and directed this production of The Magic Flute for the Metropolitan Opera of New York in 2005. Her innovative vision for the show, particularly with the use of puppetry, is carried forth in this production. Matthew Barclay’s direction ties every element together to create a semi-surreal world that is truly captivating. The sheer monumental nature of the set and the complementary costuming is phenomenal. George Tsypin is responsible for a vast perspex set, centring on a rotating stage, that shimmers with Gary Marder’s striking lighting design. Taymor’s costume designs help to tell the story and establish each character’s persona, in many cases augmenting their grandeur, and often contributing to some of the humour. The immense technical detail shown to allow the smooth flourishing of a large cape or the cocking of a large bird’s puppet head to closely resemble an animal is very impressive. The dancers that move the puppets in this fashion are masked in black costume, however of course are still visible to the audience eye and thus allow an appreciation for the great skill involved in creating this illusion. The spectacles don’t end there, as stilt-walkers and ballet dancers also feature, adapting their deft skills to morph into the animals and characters they portray.
There is something to be said for a cast that goes from strength to strength with each performer’s entrance to the stage. The show’s brilliance musically is showcased through the individual singers and extended in the ensemble work. It reaches its pinnacle when the Queen of Night sings the renowned aria “the vengeance of hell boils in my heart”. Hannah Dahlenburg sings exquisitely in this role, gracing the high F notes with apparent ease, with ethereal results for the audience ear. The role of Papageno, played by Samuel Dundas, indulges in the humour of the piece and exhibits Dundas’ versatility as a performer through his excellent singing, agile movements and dance, as well as emanating performance charisma in the role. The show shortly features three young treble performers whose impressive vocal work is only further emphasised by their young age. I could go on to rave about each of the singers in the opera, but perhaps it would be better if you just saw the show for yourself.
The Magic Flute is dazzling musically and visually, enrapturing multiple senses for an absolutely exciting audience experience. Oozing colour and life, the misguided perception of opera as a ‘has-been’ art form couldn’t be further from the truth. In a society which seems to be frequently cynical and increasingly pessimistic, a simple tale where love and goodness triumphs sure is welcome.