Review: Opera Australia’s The Magic Flute revival still holds its spell

With thrilling large-scale puppets, spectacular design and strong performances all round, this revival of The Magic Flute makes for an enchanting night at the opera. Sung in English with English surtitles, the opera has been pruned to run for a neat 2 hours, which helps to make it instantly accessible for young audiences and those new to opera.

Mozart originally wrote this opera as a tribute to the Freemasons, in which our heroes embark on a quest for wisdom, adventure and true love. The success of this production really lies with designer Julie Taymor (of The Lion King fame). Her design vision combines ancient symbolism with modern surrealist imagery in a witty retelling of the parable. The result is utterly magical. 

The Magic Flute. Andrew Jones as Papageno.Photo by Jeff Busby.
The Magic Flute in 2012. Andrew Jones as Papageno.Photo by Jeff Busby.

The production was originally created for the Metropolitan Opera in 2004 and was first performed by Opera Australia in 2012. Featuring giant polar bears, a nine-metre serpent and pelicans in pointe shoes, the puppets are a sight to behold. For the most part they are beautifully executed, however they could be little noisy at times. Taymore, who also designed the costumes, has created a world of magic, monsters and myth, evoking images of the Far East and ancient Egypt throughout the design. George Tsypin’s set includes a dazzling Perspex cube-shaped creation that revolves and lights up, resembling something you might see in a Lady Gaga video clip.

Overall the production feels very confident, but almost to the point where it’s a little worn. Some lackluster staging in the first couple of scenes meant the action felt lacking in energy at times, and the first appearance of the Three Ladies looked somewhat timid. Despite these issues, performances are generally excellent. Scottish born tenor John Longmuir is an engaging and sympathetic Tamino. His bright tenor his very well suited to this repertoire, and he sings with clarity and warmth.

Samuel Dundas is in his element as Papageno, the bird-catcher on a quest for romance. He brings an easygoing charm and impressive physicality to the role, even managing to look handsome in his lime green unitard. His duet with Papagena, played by the effervescent Katherine Wiles, was a crowd favourite.

The Magic Flute. Taryn Fiebig and Lorina Gore. Photo by Jeff Busb
The Magic Flute in 2012. Taryn Fiebig and Lorina Gore. Photo by Jeff Busb

Kanen Breen is riotous as Monostatos, the bat-winged, beer-bellied pervert who occasionally flashes his privates with a shriek. As the revenge-crazed Queen of the Night, Emma Matthews is in fine form and tackles the famous aria with its notorious series of high F’s with aplomb.

Mozart’s score is in the hands of an expert in conductor Tony Legge, and he leads the orchestra with precision and clarity. The chorus, expertly prepared by Chorus Master Anthony Hunt, sound and look spectacular in their geometric cloaks.

Taryn Fiebig sings with her typical warmth and feistiness as Pamina, and Jane Ede, Sian Pendry and Dominica Matthews sound exquisite together as the Three Ladies. Bass baritone Daniel Sumegi brought gravitas and tenderness in equal measure to his role as Sarastro.

Ultimately there is much to love in this opera; extravagant production value, a cast full of comic inventiveness and a truly excellent interpretation of a Mozart classic. This production still stands as a magical introduction to opera.

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