Review: The Magic Flute (Opera Australia)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Dec 30, 2015 – Jan 16, 2016
Music: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Libretto: Emanuel Schikaneder (English translation by J D McClatchy)
Director: Matthew Barclay (based on the original production by Julie Taymor)
Cast: Taryn Fiebig, John Longmuir, Samuel Dundas, Hannah Dahlenburg, Daniel Sumegi, Jane Ede, Sian Pendry, Anna Yun, Katherine Wiles, Kanen Breen, Adrian Tamburini, Malcolm Ede, Jonathan McCauley, Dean Bassett, Clifford Plumpton, Jack Kleem, Justin Chen, Ben Johnston
Images by Branco Gaica

Theatre review
Julie Taymor’s reinvention of The Magic Flute first appeared at New York’s Metropolitan Opera in 2004. Whimsical and colourful, Opera Australia’s presentation of Taymor’s work with Matthew Barclay at the helm, speaks to audiences of all creed and ages. The story’s darker elements and its mischievous sexuality are left intact, but interpreted in a gentle manner that poses no threat to young minds and delicate sensibilities.

Marvellous use of puppetry and masks, along with animated performance styles ensure that we are captivated and constantly amazed. The extraordinary spectacle created by elaborate sets and costumes is the centre of our attention, and music becomes secondary for most of its duration. There are exceptions of course, most notably the arias by the Queen of the Night, thrilling and beautiful under Hannah Dahlenburg’s masterful execution. Technical brilliance and unbridled passion of the diva’s voice brings elevation to our spirit, and the mythological aspects of The Magic Flute become markedly resonant. The trio of young boys Justin Chen, Ben Johnston and Jack Kleem are memorable as adorable child-spirits, joined at the hip and perfectly harmonious with their delicate singing. Another trio of performers Jane Ede, Sian Pendry and Anna Yun create a humorously malicious gang of ladies who appear throughout the show quite out of the blue, effectively manifesting a sense of the supernatural for this magical opera.

If this is pantomime, then it is the most sophisticated that one could wish to see. There is artistic excellence at every turn that will satisfy any theatrical aficionado, and even though its emotional and intellectual capacities are moderate at best, this is a production that has extremely wide appeal, perhaps surprisingly so for its genre. In The Magic Flute, evil is banished and lovers unite with solace and happiness. The simple tale will never grow old, especially at this level of innovation that artists can tell it. The spirit of adventure and invention is alive in Mozart’s 225 year-old masterpiece.