Monday, 11 August 2014

The Magic Flute at Riverside Theatres

The Magic Flute, Anna Dowsley as Papagena and Christopher Hillier as Papageno. Photo credit Albert Comper.
Opera Australia are really rather clever. They are embarking on a substantial tour of Australia with Mozart's The Magic Flute, 'bringing opera to all Australians regardless of where they live'. Enhancing this sense of community they are joining forces with the children's choir through their regional schools touring program. Each performance will include singers from the children's choir in that town or city, simultaneously supporting the potential opera singers of tomorrow and guaranteeing them an audience of mum, dad, extended family etc. Like I said, clever.

I saw the performance at Parramatta's Riverside Theatre, a venue that arguably is not built for opera - and here is their first hurdle. While the sound was great (from my position near the front) the stage itself never changed. While the set that was erected was clever and well utilised, with it's hidden doors, the fact that every dramatic scene occurred in the same room felt a bit stale. The scene was set in 1930s Egypt and our heroic lead Tamino (Sam Roberts-Smith) finds himself charged with a mission to rescue the Queen of the Night's daughter who has been kidnapped. With the help of his comical sidekick Papageno (Christopher Hillier)they are guided by child spirits (enter the children's choir) and go in search of Pamina (Emma Castelli).

When they do find her it transpires that the man who has kidnapped her is in fact her father Sarastro (Steven Gallop) who is a philosopher who encourages the two explorers to seek enlightenment and join his group (felt like a cult), only then will he allow Pamina to marry Tamino. So they do. The Queen of the Night (Regina Daniel) gets quite annoyed, tries to manipulate her daughter but strangely in the end appears to reconcile with Sarastro. It feels as if The Magic Flute is a battle for custody between two divorced parents. 

The singing is faultless. Each performer is exceptional at what they do, however it is Christopher Hillier as the loveable 'anti-hero' Papageno that really steals the show. He, more than the others manages to sing beautifully and act. Hillier walks the fine line between acting and over acting and manages to nail it. The children's choir, naturally, cannot act, so that was a little painful to watch - however their singing is stunning. There was one scene in which each child brought a stuffed toy animal and placed it on the stage in front of Tamino as he waved the magic flute around. Anyone familiar with the story would recognise this as the moment all the animals become entranced by the flutes music but it didn't really translate well and the children's awkwardness only added to the confusion.         
The Magic Flute, Hannah Dahlenburg as Queen of the Night. Photo credit Albert Comper.
Entertaining and humorous, The Magic Flute is not the best thing I've ever seen Opera Australia produce, however that does not mean it wasn't worth seeing. With one night only performances happening across Australia until September, dates and locations can be found on the website
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