Magic Flute still casts spell
reviewed by Rosalind Appleby
on the 17th July
Review of the WA Opera’s the Magic Flute
Mozart’s The Magic Flute has something for everyone. The composer and his librettist Emanuel Shikaneder created a singspiel in 1791 with an extraordinary jumble of style and music that was obviously meant to have a broad appeal.
And it still does.
If it’s romance you’re after, Tamino’s noble quest to rescue princess Pamina will win you over, for comedy watch Papageno trying to bag his bird, there’s fantasy in the magical instruments and dancing animals and for religion try the Freemason ideology.
Typically, productions of The Magic Flute emphasise either the pantomime aspect or the Masonic saintliness. WA Opera’s restaging of Goran Jarvefelt’s Opera Australia production (last seen in Perth in 2008) concentrates on the people as psychologically true. The audience is invited along on the journey of self- discovery.
In keeping with the realism, the opera was sung in Australian-vernacular English which meant the audience received the full brunt of the comic banter. Papageno delivered lines like “better an old chook than no chook at all” and the audience delighted in the accessible humour and frolicking costumed animals.
Under Rachel McDonald’s direction, Monostatos was thankfully no longer cast as a black character and Pamina’s rejection of him was put down to his “ugliness”.
Liberty was also taken with the translation to smooth over some of the gender shockers.
It was tempting, given the refreshingly updated language, to envision modern dress too; instead 18th century wigs and stockings abounded.
Admittedly the gilded frock coats and bustling silk skirts added a touch of opulence to Carl Friedrich Oberle’s otherwise plain set: three walls marked with Freemason slogans Wisdom, Nature, Reason.
Young tenor Alexander Lewis made his WA Opera debut as Tamino singing on opening night with boyish fervour and a promising dark-hued glow. Katja Webb’s (Pamina) well-centred soprano was impeccably controlled, opening up into glorious top notes and whisper-soft in her tender Act Two aria Ah I feel it.
James Clayton’s comical Papageno was all the more impressive remembering the darkness of his recent Iago in Otello. His interaction with Papagena (the winsome Jennifer Barrington) was pure delight.
An impressive depth of talent in the minor roles included an outstanding trio of Ladies (Fiona Campbell, Sarah Guilmartin, Caitlin Cassidy), Three Boys (Thomas McQuillan, Harry Playford, Oliver Freyne) who couldn’t be topped for polish or cuteness and Daniel Sumegi as a regal, fatherly Sarastro.
The villain roles were less successful: Milica Ilic was inconsistent as Queen of the Night and Robert Macfarlane was empty of bluster as Monostatos.
The chaos of The Magic Flute is held together by Mozart’s music which spins (as only Mozart can) one marvellous melody after another: tender love songs interspersed with bird calls and majestic hymns.
Conductor Brad Cohen drew a fine performance from the WA Symphony Orchestra: joyful, coherent and synchronised.
It’s hard to top Magic Flute and there is much to love in this production.
The audience delighted in the accessible humour and frolicking costumed animals.