Left - Christopher Saunders & Sarah Crane. Cover - Jason Barry-Smith & Cast.
Opera Queensland’s production of The Magic Flute sees Mozart’s opera, which was first staged in Vienna in 1791, set at a circus. The Magic Flute opera is known as Singspiel (song play) written to entertain Vienna’s working classes. This new production takes the bold step of reinterpreting an opera which continues to be performed regularly world wide, with adapted versions for youth.
Traditionally, The Magic Flute begins with the story of a prince Tamino, wandering at night in search of adventure who in his travels encounters a monster. Attendants of the Queen of the Night save Tamino from the monster but in return seek that he free the daughter of the Queen of the Night, a princess Pamina. Sarastro a high Priest of Isis and Osiris is holding Pamina. Unbeknownst to Tamino, Sarastro has taken Pamina away from the Queen in order to free her from the Queens’ evil influence and bring her up in the path of purity. This drives the Queen of the Night to revenge.
Upon seeing a picture of Pamina, Tamino falls instantly in love and commits to the quest. Papageno, a cheerful bird-catcher who serves the Queen, accompanies him. The Queen of the Night gives Tamino a magic flute, and Papageno a peal of bells, which they should play in times of trouble and their troubles, will disappear.
Upon meeting, Sarastro convinces Tamino he is indeed right in detaining Pamina and sets a testing course by which Tamino’s virtues and beliefs are to be tested. If he is successful then he is worthy of Love. Whilst being held by Sarastro, Pamina is dogged by Monostatos who his convinced Pamina must love and submit to him and tries to force his will upon her. A pressed Pamina is summoned by the Queen of the Night to kill Sarastros, a deed to which she cannot commit.
The end of Act II sees Tamino overcome the challenges set before him and the confusion it causes between himself and Pamina, even the endearing Papageno finds himself lover. The evil Queen, her attendants and their intentions are defeated and banished as the rays of dawn light shine over the horizon, in a symbolic showing that love and goodness conquers all.
Director, Christine Douglas has set The Magic Flute in “A Magical Circus, floating in time and space” and in turn, characters take on roles within the Circus, Papageno (Jason Barry-Smith) as a clown, the sinister Queen of the Night (Judit Lorincz) as a famous knife thrower, Monostatos (Virgilio Marino) as the strong man. This leap of artistic interpretation on behalf of Opera Queensland is indeed great but the echo which rings once the last note is sung is “Did it work?” By moving, an opera traditionally set in Egypt - are the notions of ritual and righteousness less accessible and understood by the audience? Mozart who was a practising Mason weaved references to Masonic practices and beliefs of the Enlightenment into the story of The Magic Flute. Though Douglas sees archetypes in the characters of The Magic Flute, and subsequently found she could accommodate them in the setting of a circus, this backdrop means connections to ritual and practice and ideologies of belief are less than easily identifiable. An uninitiated audience member might find it spectacularly entertaining but short on meaning and sub text. This led to a somewhat “clunky” interpretation where the overarching narrative was apparent but the individual stories of characters were muted or scrambled.
Perhaps the two performances of the night that stand out being Judit Lorinz’s Queen of the Night and Virgilio Marino’s Monostatos benefited from this. Lorinz’s delivery and range was truly mesmerising. This only enhanced her already strong stage presence and then again augmented by costume. The story of the Queen of the Night was less clearly conveyed but the strength of Lorinz’s performance compensated for this. Marino’s Monostatos, was the distasteful character, which brought comic relief and was a delight to see reappear throughout the performance (an unintended outcome maybe?). By housing Monostatos in a one-piece fake fur strong man outfit, replete with a fake muscle suit, Marino was able to play with the character within the setting of the circus and bring out elements of comedy and insecurity. Jason Barry-Smith as Papageno provided the perhaps the most vocally consistent and strong character performance of the night. Papageno the clown and Monostatos the strong man found their voice in this magical circus.
Mention should also be given to Andrew Collis as the Speaker; (his bass-baritone voice demanded attention and embraced the audience providing focus whenever he was on stage) and Gennadi Dubinsky’s strong interpretation of Sarastro.
Christopher Saunders as Tamino delivered a strong vocal performance but his presence and movement on stage seemed to lack direction and meaning. One knew he was there to sing as Tamino but was unsure if the character Tamino knew why he was there. This was overcome towards the end of Act ii when the synchronicity between Tamino and Pamina (Sarah Crane) drove the performances higher.
Set and costume designer Simone Romaniuk, in her company debut for Opera Queensland, brings the fantasy and colour of the circus to the stage using the full palette of colour and spectacle. Act i opens with larger than life shadows of circus performers back lit onto the striped big top. It set the scene for an opera in which themes of façade and revelation, ritual and practice, individual versus community are intertwined. Particularly impressive is the chose of colours, and design for the Queen of the Night and her three ladies, First Lady (Gaynor Morgan), Second Lady (Jessica O’Donoghue) and Third Lady (Sarah Sweeting) brought to life in deep purple and white dresses adorned with feather and sequins. For a modern day comparison, think Disney’s Cruella deVille with a burlesque like Andrew sisters in tow. Fitting for the havoc and mischief, they wreak. The set was versatile and imaginative creating space, level and depth for the performance. In his Australian, conducting debut Richard Lewis used the range of colours to him available through instrument to provide a dynamic interpretation of the score. Without these two staples, the opera may have been on shakier ground.
Opera Queensland is commended for propelling The Magic Flute into new environs and challenging the interpretation; it provided some true comedic moments and asked the audience to engage in the story’s recitation. For those familiar with the story being told it is a delightful journey through colour and sound. For those not, or new to the experience it may be one of opera’s bumpier rides.
The Magic Flute
by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Venue: Conservatorium Theatre, South Bank
Dates: 12, 15, 17, 19, 22, 24, 26, 29, 31 July and 2 August, 2008
Tickets: from $40
Bookings: qtix 136 246 or online www.qtix.com.au