Tuesday, January 17, 2012


Conductor:               Jonathan Darlington
Director:                   Mathew Barclay - based on the original production by Julie Taymor
Set Designer:            George Tsypion
Costume Designer    Julie Taymor
Puppetry Design      Julie Taymor, Michael Curry
Lighting Designer     Gary Marder, based on the original design by Donald Holder
Choreographer        Mathew Barclay, based on the original choreography by Mark Dendy
Assistan Conductor Andrew Greene

Presented by Opera Australia

Sydney Opera House until 23rd March 2012.

Reviewed by Bill Stephens
                                                             Andrew Jones as Papageno
                                                                 Photo: Branco Gaica
“The Magic Flute” has never been among my favourite opera’s. I puzzle over the shenanigans of the characters in this curious mixture of fairy-tale and masonic symbolism which seems to fascinate so many opera lovers.

Over the years I’ve seen several productions but none have been as magical as I imagine this opera should be. Therefore when Opera Australia announced that they would be presenting Julie Taymor’s Metropolitan Opera production, my hopes rose that this would be the production which would open my eyes to mysteries of “The Magic Flute”. After all, hadn’t Taymor been responsible for that truly magical production of “The Lion King”?

Alas my hopes were destined to be dashed. Taymor’s view of “The Magic Flute” has much to recommend it. It comes with a wonderful serpent, huge floating bears, birds and butterflies, riotously colourful costumes, spectacular chorus scenes and ingenious scenery all of which creates a psychedelic dream world into which Mozart’s convoluted story should fit quite comfortably.

Taymor has also shortened the opera quite significantly – this production lasts just two hours - including the interval. She has given it an updated libretto, sung in mostly well-articulated English. All of which I had hoped would clarify the opera. But although much of the spectacle is certainly quite diverting, somehow I wasn’t as swept up in it all as I had hoped to be, nor did I find it any clearer.

I attended the second performance of this production, and it wasn’t that the performance was bad, it just wasn’t good enough, which left me wondering whether something of Taymor’s vision been lost in its transfer to The Sydney Opera Hous. The trappiings were there but the soul was missing.

                                                          Andrew Brunsdon as Tamino
                                                               Photo: Branco Gaica

No doubt the production has been accurately reproduced by the director, but without the creator’s driving vision it somehow doesn’t seem to be a comfortable fit for the Australian cast. Certainly not yet.

Perhaps my expectations were too high, but as Opera Australia had made much of the fact that they had cast this opera with many of their brightest young singers, I had been very much looking forward to hearing them. What a worrying surprise it was to discover that many of the voices were decidedly light weight, and from where I was sitting in the stalls, I found that I often had to strain to hear some of the soloists over the orchestra, despite the best efforts of conductor, Jonathan Darlington.

Andrew Jones as Papageno - Nicole Car as Pamina
                                                                  Photo:Branco Gaica
Apart from Nicole Car, whose lovely resonant tone and confident presence made her an ideal Pamina, Andrew Brunsdon, whose Tamino, though well sung was not otherwise particularly engaging, and Kiandra Howarth who brought some much needed sparkle to her Papagena, not many of the soloists seemed to have found the key to their characters. Most seemed content to simply wear their costumes, perform the direction and concentrate on the singing, without really inhabiting their roles. Some had clearly not mastered the use of their puppets, or indeed how to wear their costumes.

The three ladies, for example, initially had some very effective moments with the placements of their disembodied heads, but this effect was spoiled later when the heads just seemed to wave around with no particular purpose or co-ordination.
                                        Nicole Car as Pamina and David Parker as Sarastro
                                                              Photo:  Branco Gaico
Sarastro certainly looked fine in his costumes, but seemed to be concentrating so much on reaching his low notes, that, in the processions, he forgot, quite distractingly, to walk in time to the music. The Queen of the Night was clearly out of her depth and her idiosyncratic delivery of the famous aria made uncomfortable listening. Papageno was played like a character from “Playschool” with an ocker accent (?). Even the usually brilliant Kanen Breen seemed to be struggling to make his grotesquely costumed Monostatos interesting.

Overall, it was the type of performance that one expects from a group of talented students, but rather below what is expected from our National Opera Company.

This production will run until March 23rd and no doubt with more performances the company will work out the key to bringing it alive. It’s certainly worth a look, but meanwhile, perhaps I’ll need to keep searching for my ideal production of this opera, given the remark muttered by a bemused German gentlemen to his companion as they left the performance - “That’s not The Magic Flute” .

                                                    Andrew Jones as Papageno

                                                         Photo: Branco Gaica