Photo – James Rogers
I’ve had more than one opera fan tell me, “This is my favourite production of The Magic Flute,” and it’s easy to see why Opera Australia’s 1986 production is popular. It’s filled with surreal visuals and accessible humour, and it proceeds with a kind of hallucinatory charm. WA Opera’s re-staging by rehearsal director Rachel McDonald of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, now running at His Majesty’s Theatre, is simply a delight to experience.
Sung completely in English with a considerable amount of spoken dialogue, this would be an easy entry into the world of opera for the uninitiated. And certainly initiation is a key theme of this particular work by Mozart, as it acts as a kind of Masonic primer. Without going into too much detail of the ins and outs of Masonic rites, the two protagonists, Tamino and Papageno must go through various trials in order to attain love and bring light into the world. It’s all very esoteric, although this particular staging tries to find solid ground by rooting itself firmly in the characters themselves.
As such, it would have been key to cast performers that could not only sing well, but who could flesh out these archetypal roles which seem like they were sketched straight from a deck of tarot cards, and often behave in ways that have very little real-world logic. Welcoming us into this strange world are Mozart’s answer to Shakespeare’s Weird Sisters, the three ladies in waiting to the Queen of the Night. This trio of beauties (Sarah Guilmartin, Fiona Campbell and Caitlin Cassidy) are lively and luscious at as they flounce about and fawn over Tamino.
Good things come in threes in this piece, not only with the three ladies, but also with the three boys, who are played by six young lads presumably on alternating nights. Each time these two trios arrive on scene throughout the night it’s a treat, with the ladies displaying a bit of classy sauciness, and the lads bringing all innocent sweetness.
Amongst the main players we have some of WA Opera’s favourites, including James Clayton as Papageno (harking back to his performance as Leporello in last year’s Don Giovanni), Katja Webb as the lovely damsel-in-distress Pamina, and Daniel Sumegi as the stately and authoritative Sarastro. These three continue to deliver consistently good performances, Webb with great vocal control that soars when it opens out to its full richness, Clayton with his free and effortless delivery, and Sumegi with his commanding, dark tones.
But it was Alexander Lewis’s Tamino that cast the biggest spell of the night in his debut performance with WA Opera. His voice is both strong and supple, his diction is impeccable, and his stage presence is open and centered. He perfectly fits this young hero role opposite Webb; you couldn’t ask for a better-suited pair of lovers.
The Queen of the Night, performed by Milica Ilic, got off to a rocky start in the first act, but later improved, with one foot firmly planted in Disney evil queen territory. Robert Macfarlane was silly as Monostatos, but his voice lacked power as he seemed to choose comical physicality over vocals. Jennifer Barrington’s Papagena was nicely done, with a funny character voice and movement as well as a nicely rendered Papageno-Papagena duet with Clayton.
The set is simple with a raked stage, not unlike the set for the aforementioned production of Don Giovanni, with pastoral scenes painted on three moveable walls and mechanised windows that opened and closed to reveal both singers and animal puppets in any given scene. The costumes are clean, crisp and of the period.
This Magic Flute plays a merry tune, and lets the viewer read into its symbolism as much or as little as he or she likes.
West Australian Opera presents
The Magic Flute
by WA Mozart
Conductor Brad Cohen
Venue: His Majesty’s Theatre, Perth
Dates: 15, 17, 19, 22, 24 & 26 July, 2014
Tickets: $330.00 – $30.00