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Review: The Magic Flute at The Sydney Opera House

Review by Cynthia Ning

The summer season of productions was in full swing at The Sydney Opera House, with the picture-perfect sunset as the backdrop and watching patrons gathered towards the famous steps to see their chosen show.

The Magic Flute by composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to German librettist Emanuel Schikaneder was highly anticipated, with a sold-out show during its opening night.

Conductor Teresa Riveiro Böhm instinctively waved her baton in a fluid motion, and the spell was cast. The spirit children were charming and energetic in their interaction with one another as they began telling the tale using flashlights and puppetry against a plain white curtain. A terrified but earnest Tamino (Michael Smallwood) tumbled to the soft grassy ground as the Three Ladies (Jane Ede/Indyana Schneider/Ruth Strutt) circled him like hungry birds of prey and opened with synchronized movements and captivating harmonizing operatic vocals. 

The surtitles were located discreetly above the theatre for the audience to read along as the lyrics contained key story components within them. The ladies teased their return to Tamino and disappeared and a quick drawing back of the curtains revealed the whimsical set covered in grass and flowers with three tall ivory door archways on each wall that resembled, similarly to traditional art galleries. 


There was an unexpected and uniquely modern twist where faux English accents were not prominently featured, rather, the Australian accent was heavily emphasized with the lovable Papageno (Ben Mingay) and the illusive Papagena (Jennifer Black) playing cat and mouse through and around the multifunctional black curtain. Papageno proved to be the crowd favorite, with his laid back nature, quick sarcasm and yearning for a bird to call his own.

The Queen of the Night (Giuseppina Grech) shone as brightly as the moon, captivating the audience with her overwhelming presence and strength that only a mother can deliver. The audience was in awe of her performance, nailing the beloved 'Der Hölle Rache' using the dagger as an extension of herself in a fit of passion for sweet revenge. Sarastro (David Parkin) emanated a calm presence in the storm, radiating warmth like the sun and placing faith in Tamino’s quest for his daughter’s heart. The silver and gold robes for both characters provide good contrast, emphasizing their higher status of power and influence over the young lovers. 

Monostatos (Kanen Breen) played the cowardly villain and henchman with gusto, leaning into his humorous side as he plotted and planned a devious scheme. I would encourage him to project his voice louder to the audience, so we don’t lose any of that dialogue during delivery.

Each new scene transitioned with different curtains which opened a new chapter in this modern fairytale retelling. We followed the hero's journey up the hill and through treacherous terrain as Pamina (Stacey Alleaume) battled fiercely for her freedom, performing outstanding heartfelt vocals, especially throughout the second act.

The moon and glittering metallic streamers illuminated the room as they hit the stage lights. The inclined-centred entryway, thunder sound effects, and sheer walls created depth and dimensions on the flat stage which sparked imagination and curiosity. 

This was highlighted by the touch of everyday clothing worn by the adult spirits and bare feet which played between realism and fantasy, especially in the scenes of gathering which was surreal to witness. The cheeky lines and banter between the main characters provided a fresh take on this timeless piece which gave the audience a bit of a giggle as romance and love don’t always the way we plan.  

The final scene brought the once-divided parents back together with all the spirits dressed in colourful silks like birds of paradise at a garden party, celebrating the fated union of Tamino and Pamina.

It is a visual delight for all to see. This was an enormous musical feat that they executed wonderfully and made it look like a mere child’s play. 

Image Credit: Keith Saunders


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