The Magic Flute

OA_Anna Dowsley as Papagena and Christopher Hillier as Papageno_photo by Albert ComperOn the front page of the original score of The Magic Flute, Mozart noted that the setting was Egypt. This was all the encouragement director, Michael Gow needed to come up with this deliciously silly adaptation, which moves the action into the 1930’s, when the world was still besotted by the discovery of King Tutankhamun’s tomb, and all things Egyptian.

Robert Kemp’s design takes us into a rather substantial-looking Egyptian tomb, complete with a mummy, secret chambers, mysterious hieroglyphics and a cast who look as though they have just stepped out of the latest Indiana Jones movie. It all works a treat.

Some clever tweaking of the libretto by Gow, has Tamino as a young explorer. Pamina is now a rather modern young miss whose love for Tamino, ultimately manages to re-unite her parents, the glamorous Queen of the Night and the mysterious, if slightly dotty professor, Sarastro. They are aided and abetted through a series of adventures, along the path to true love, by a bumbling bird-catcher, Papageno and three of the Queen’s hand-maidens.

This rather wonderful nonsense serves Mozart’s idiosyncratic opera very well indeed and is particularly beautifully sung as by this ensemble cast of young emerging Opera Australia soloists, most of who, alternate between the soloist and ensemble roles. This version is sung in English, and for the most part, admirably well-articulated by the singers, and accompanied by an excellent small ensemble orchestra, conducted by Paul Fitzsimon, who ensures an excellent balance between orchestra and singer, making the lyrics easy to hear and the action easy to follow.

Jonathan Abernathy cuts an impressively heroic figure as Tamino, and though his acting was rather tentative, his warm, lyrical tenor voice was unforced and expressive. As Pamino, the object of Tamino’s affection, Emma Castelli also impressed with the clarity and beauty of her voice.

Usually seen in more serious roles, Christopher Hillier as Papageno, proved a dab hand at knock-about comedy, nailing all his laughs, and tossing off his tongue- twisting arias with admirable aplomb. He was well teamed with Anna Dowsley, quite irresistible as the mischievous Papagena.

As dazzling as she appeared as the epitome of Hollywood glamour, in a glittering silver dress, white fur and platinum blonde wig, Hannah Dahlenburg also dazzled vocally with her thrilling performance as the Queen of the Night, nailing every note of the famous aria with startling accuracy and clarity, whilst striding the stage with confidence and flair.

Equally thrilling, but at the other end of the scale, was Steven Gallop’s towering Sarastro. His voice as rich as warm treacle, Gallop commanded the stage on every appearance, bringing a quiet dignity and subtle air of mystery to the unexpected denouement of his re-union with The Queen of the Night…

At this performance, Anna Yun, Regina Daniel and Stacey Alleaume brought admirable vocal clarity and vivaciousness to the three ladies. Benjamin Rasheed was a wonderfully loathsome Monostatos, and Andrew Moran and Nicholas Jones provided enthusiastic support as the guards.

A notable feature of this production is the interpolation of a children’s choir, and for the Canberra performance, members of The Woden Valley Youth Choir contributed to the fun, singing accurately and beautifully while acting with enthusiasm.

Following on last year’s Opera Australia touring production of his excellent Don Giovanni, this imaginative, entertaining production, by Michael Gow, of another Mozart masterpiece, stamps Gow as one of our most interesting contemporary opera directors. One looks forward to his next production.

Presenter: Opera Australia  Director: Michael Gow  Conductor: Paul Fitzsimon  Designer: Robert Kemp  Lighting design: Matt Scott

The Magic Flute
Canberra Theatre, London Circuit, Canberra
Performance: Thursday 4 September 2014
Season: 4 – 6 September 2014

Opera Australia’s The Magic Flute continues with performances in Victoria and Tasmania. For more information, visit: www.opera.org.au/ontour/regional_tour_2014 for details.

Image: Anna Dowsley as Papagena and Christopher Hillier as Papageno – photo by Albert Comper

Review: Bill Stephens

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