A new English libretto by Carl Rafferty - Music by W.A. Mozart - Produced by Carl Rafferty,Directed by Shane Treeves - Musical Director: Peter Tregear
The Albert Hall – May 3-5th.
Reviewed by Bill Stephens
For some years now Carl Rafferty has been presenting a style of “dinner opera” in the Albert Hall, under the title of “Opera by Candlelight”. With its classic Federation period elegance, The Albert Hall provides a perfect venue for this endeavour, and with this finely honed production, Rafferty has perfected the recipe for presenting a unique and memorable evening of opera with the potential to become yet another major Canberra tourist blockbuster.
On arrival, guests are greeted with the spectacle of the superb hall set with tables dressed in crisp white table-cloths, each surrounded by eight burgundy chairs, and on each, a silver candelabra complete with flickering candles. The stage is extended with a spectacular setting, created by Wayne Shepherd, in readiness for the opera which will be performed between courses of dinner.
Guests are encouraged to dress elaborately, and to bring their own food and wine, and most enter into the mood of the night with gusto, loading the tables with fine food and wine, and dressing appropriately. Midway through the evening a prize is given to the best decorated table.
Promptly at 7.00 o'clock, the performance begins, and on this occasion it is “The Magic Flute” for which Carl Rafferty, in addition to producing the opera, selecting the cast, the setting and the costumes, and who also plays piano in the orchestra, has written a new English libretto based on the original work by Emanuel Schickaneder. In doing so, he’s removed all of the freemasonry symbols and most of the darker references, and come up with a thoroughly enchanting singspiel which if not the opera Mozart intended, is certainly wonderfully cohesive and entertaining.
Rafferty has cast his net wide to assemble a cast who are talented as well as young and attractive, and while not all of them yet have the voices for their roles, there is some spectacularly good singing on offer. Young New Zealand tenor James Adams is well cast as Prince Tamino. Not only is he as good-looking as any Walt Disney prince, he also has a fine tenor voice, and can act, finding exactly the correct tone of slightly silly manliness for the role.
|James Adams as Prince Tamino|
His Princess Pamina is a 21 year-old Slovenian soprano, Jerica Steklasa, who, as well as also being very beautiful, possesses a glorious voice and the ability to act her role with such conviction and sincerity that the audience is quickly drawn into the story. Her handling of the scene in which she pleads with Tamino, who has been sworn to silence, to speak to her, was especially moving. Canberra audiences are fortunate to have the opportunity to see this talented young singer making her role debut as Pamina, because, having just won Slovenia’s important TEMSIG music competition just prior to arriving in Canberra, she is without doubt destined for a brilliant singing career.
|Jerica Steklasa who played Princess Pamina|
Kate Rafferty was splendid as the icy and imperious Queen of the Night, tossing off the difficult vocal gymnastics with confidence and style, while the impressively deep-voiced, Philip Barton, managed to invest his Sarastro with a warmth and dignity not normally associated with this role.
While Zach Raffan, who shares the role of Papageno with Daniel Nicholson, may not have the best singing voice on stage, he certainly doesn’t lack acting ability and managed to bring considerable charm to his Papageno. His final “Pa, Pa, Pa” duet with the vivacious Cecilia Connell as Papagena, provided one of the many highlights of the evening.
|Cecilia Connell (Papagena) Zach Raffan (Papageno)|
Directing his first opera, Shane Treeves also gave an energectic performance in the role of Sarastro’s slave, Monostatos, and while he made quite a strong impression in the role, it was his work as director which was particularly impressive. His staging is imaginative and resourceful, and most importantly, he displays a sense of musical awareness not always present in opera directors and one looks forward to his next directing assignment.
The musical accompaniment for the production was provided by a small seven-piece ensemble conducted by Peter Tregear, which played standing on a raised stage to one side of the performing area, in full view of the audience. This was an interesting innovation which worked very well, and after a shaky start in the overture, they soon settled down to provide a vivacious and beautifully balanced account of Mozart’s magical score.
Anna Rafferty, Diana Tulip & Philippa Murphy were excellent as The Queen of the Night’s three attendants, and together with Dharshi Paheerathan, Meg Hobson & Philippa Blunn who played the three boys who provide excellent narrations which propel the action along, all sang prettily, acted their characters vivaciously and provided an excellent choral sound throughout, augmented from time to time by Kobi Cumberland, Mark Evans, Hugh McCarthy and Noeme Huttner filling various small roles enthusiastically.
Excellent production values and the confidence displayed by the performers resulting from three performances given in Sydney in the week prior to the Canberra season, insured a remarkably smooth opening night performance, and an especially memorable “Opera by Candlelight” experience for those attending this unique production of “The Magic Flute” which went a long way towards capturing the elusive magic of this most magical of all operas.