Fly the Flute fantastic ... Mozart and Schikaneder would be proud!
Die Zauberflöte. Mozart. Sydney Opera House Monday 20th February 2006.
Tamino - Jaewoo Kim
Papageno - Warwick Fyfe
Queen of the Night - Amelia Farrugia
Pamina - Emma Matthews
Sarastro - Stephen Richardson
Three ladies - Sarah Crane, Catherine Carby, Sally-Anne Russell
Monostotos - Kanen Breen, Papagena - Taryn Fiebig
Speaker - Jud Arthur, Priest - Graeme Macfarlane
Cond. R. Hickox.
Director David Freeman
Design Dan Potra
Choreography Debra Batton
The Sydney summer season of opera has reached its half-way point with a spectacular new production of Magic Flute by David Freeman and Dan Potra. Julie Taymor of Lion King fame brought new Magic to the Flute in New York last year using giant puppets and a circus approach. Freeman and Potra bring their own joint genius to this colourful show in which fire and water really ARE fire and water. And priests wear saffron and crimson, with dark sets as panels of pietra dura which are variously ‘back’, edge or front-lit. The three temple doors lift out of the floor, so no scene change is needed. The busy, fenestrated set opens and closes to produce small intimate scenes in ‘cupboards’ or vestibules to an open stage when space is needed.
It would take reams to describe all the splendid stage craft, scene by scene so I will just stick to the most memorable. The first act opens onto a vine strewn jungle. Our retinue of actors are climbing ropes and ladders, some initially hidden in the undergrowth. We are accompanied throughout the opera by quadruped furry friends including lions (or were they baboons, the Egyptian symbols of the dawn and light?).
Our dragon is shown as three huge moving sections: ‘vicious visage’ head suspended, massive single claw and writhing serpent body. Our eastern prince was tall, imposing Korean Jaewoo Kim, dressed in finest oriental silk. He sang and acted exceptionally well. His fellow traveller on the trials to happiness was played equally well by Warwick Fyfe. With a strong voice and good comic sense, he arrived on stage looking like a younger Les Patterson (rhinophyma nose added), with his own personal barbecue and beer cans. While readers may wonder, most of this Oz-ock take-off was tasteful … and in appropriate contrast to the regal nature of his company. Even Australian accents in the (English) dialogue did not seem out of place between the arias, sung in German. Australian gags brought much mirth and were worthy of ‘Barry McKenzie’.
One of the ‘vestibule’ scenes saw our two heroes about to embark on their trials, as if seated in twin electric chairs. Next, the entire chamber started revolving through 90, then 180 degrees, the articulated chairs remaining upright but stopping at the ceiling rather than the floor. Later the same room served Papageno climbing for dear life as it spun again unexpectedly. It also became a more intimate setting for his ‘reviving’ scene when he receives a tin of beer rather than the traditional glass of wine.
Another splendid ’effect’ occurred when the Regency couple had weathered the water trials and appeared suspended behind a wall of flowing water. The spray curtailed, they walked through to a sort of Olympic medal ceremony. As if in need of a final pièce de resistance, but to no more dramatic effect, the common couple were ‘walled’ by vertical jets of water at the end of their duetto.
Our nocturnal Queen arrived from the sky, suspended on a bright yellow translucent quarter-moon. Ms Farrugia managed the impossible tessitura with slightly pinched yet still accurate highest notes and a regal presence. Oddly, Tamino spent the aria looking up the Queen’s white stranded dress which extended down to the stage several metres below. Her second act aria was even more impressive, now back on the ground, as she tries to sway her daughter Pamina against the wicked Lodge men.
Emma Matthews was excellent as Pamina both vocally and dramatically. Stephen Richardson made a fine Sarastro and it is hard to believe that he gave us such a good Falstaffo so recently. He had all the low notes as well as the authority to carry off this very different role.
At the animated curtain calls there appeared no sign of Dan Potra, David Freeman or Debra Batton who created this extraordinary production for us. They deserve a major accolade, along with the dancers, jugglers, flame throwers, acrobats and silent muse stage assistants. The orchestra sounded in control throughout although the first notes were so staccato that they sounded to be unison from my seat in the circle. Mr Hickox beat a strict pace while carefully co-ordinating the whistles, pipes, bells and other extras required in this unique masterwork.
I imagine the season will sell out very rapidly since this is full Magilla theatre of Olympic standards. It makes a night at Butterfly seem rather staid!
Other recent successes from the opera company have been Falstaff, Butterfly and Elisir d’Amore. Rake’s Progress is next.
Comments by Andrew Byrne ..
Dr Andrew Byrne MB BS (Syd) FAChAM (RACP)
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