This production of The Magic Flute by Opera Australia was Julie Taymor's version. Originally written in 2004 for New York's Metropolitan Opera, it's a playful version full of puppetry and imagery including polar bears and flying birds. This is the company's third staging of this version and it was directed by Matthew Barclay. The original Masonic images are preserved to some extent and although the performance time is reduced from three hours to two, the musical content and principal arias are preserved. Children were certainly prominent in Ms Taymor's mind but adults are catered for too.

John Longmuir (Tamino) © Branco Gaica
John Longmuir (Tamino)
© Branco Gaica
Mozart came to write this opera as a result of his collaboration with Schikaneder's troupe of comedic actors. It was an unusual overnight success largely due to its popularity with the general public rather than opera elite. Unfortunately, Mozart was already feeling the effects of the illness which was to end his life three months later.

The predominately adult audience witnessed the Masonic three note introduction which was all that was heard of the overture and we were immediately transported to a bare landscape with Tamino being pursued by an articulated dragon which was hardly fearsome. John Longmuir, the only expatriate in the cast, seemed to downplay the part and there was none of the angst usually associated with his quest for justice and for Pamina. Taryn Fiebig's reedy soprano voice was well suited to the latter role. The three ladies wore masks of varied expressions and the clarity of their English enunciation made the surtitles superfluous. Not so, perhaps, with the three spirits with their "falsetto" voices guiding Tamino to Pamina.

Enter Papageno, with his bells and whistles, always the star of the show and particularly so in this version. Samuel Dundas played the part to perfection, both in his vocal range and his considerable acting ability. Birds circled the air, operated by barely visible puppeteers using wires, and when a goose hit the stage wing, no-one blinked an eyelid. Monostatos is a difficult part but Karyn Breen managed to pull it off without resorting to slapstick although his mask, rather than being devilish, reminded me of Mo, the classic Australian character clown.

Hannah Dahlenburg (The Queen of the Night) © Branco Gaica
Hannah Dahlenburg (The Queen of the Night)
© Branco Gaica

The Queen of the Night was played by Hannah Dahlenburg, who has considerable experience in this part, including in this production. She was superb, having no difficulty in the famous high Fs in "Der Hölle Rache" and was outstanding in the quieter "O zittre Nicht". Daniel Sumegi, as Sarastro, has a beautiful Shakespearean actor's voice but although he found the equally famous low F in "O Isis and Osiris", I found his voice less powerful than it should be for the part.

In Act II, there was a tendency to a more Vaudevillian atmosphere. It wasn't that I objected to people bringing in their unfinished drinks (were they supposed to?) but the sound of empty cans being dropped was prominent. Poor Papageno wasn't expecting his rhetorical questions to be answered by the audience but some of them were. When Monostatos reappeared, I almost expected to hear cries of "He's behind you!" The operatic atmosphere prevailed, albeit with euphoric overtones, and Tamino and Pamina successfully negotiated their ordeals.

Samuel Dundas (Papageno) © Branco Gaica
Samuel Dundas (Papageno)
© Branco Gaica

The orchestra under Rory Macdonald performed faultlessly. I've seen many productions of The Magic Flute and I had no problem with the shorter format, nor with the lighter tone and vivid animal puppetry. I could have done without the pantomime-like episode in the second half though this was no fault of the performers. Overall, a very enjoyable experience, leaving the audience, including many first time opera goers, supremely satisfied.

****1