Mozart’s The Magic Flute is always a popular choice, one of the most frequently performed operas in the world. It is a visual story, full of fascinating music, able to be told in ways that are only limited by the imagination of the planning team or director. The State Opera of South Australia has established a reputation for innovative and creative thinking, evident again in this new production, performed in the Great Hall of Adelaide’s impressive heritage-listed Masonic Lodge. It is an inspired venue for an opera so imbued with masonic symbolism and ideas. The programme has a full page from the Grand Master, describing it as an opera shimmering with Masonic influences, and suggesting “this is the first time that The Magic Flute has been performed in a Masonic Lodge setting by a professional opera company anywhere in the world”.

Nicholas Cannon (Papageno) and Naomi Hede (Pamina) © Darren Williams
Nicholas Cannon (Papageno) and Naomi Hede (Pamina)
© Darren Williams

Making his debut with SOSA was Brenton Spiteri, an inspiring Tamino, who made the role his own, playing one bemused and floundering in the otherworldly place into which he finds himself inserted – a mysterious new world where the surreal is his new reality. A beautifully sweet tenor, he sang with the ease and confidence of a veteran, his presence on stage commanding, a joy to listen to, a princely performer with great diction. He blended well with Naomi Hede, also a debut in her first major role, singing outstandingly as Pamina. She has improved with every performance, her voice getting stronger, richer and more joyous each time, her full blooded expression of despair and sadness in her presumed rejection by Tamino one of night’s triumphs.

Nicholas Cannon, an impressive baritone with many directing skills, cleverly played the carefree, simple minded birdcatcher Papageno, evoking many laughs. He has a flair for this comic role. Dressed ambiguously with fantail appendage, he was at his best in his moving duets with Pamina and later, Tamino.

In promoting the opera director, set and costume designer, David Lampard, had highlighted “a spectacular light show” and “a massive internally lit Art Deco sun” forming the core of the set. It sounded exciting. I didn’t see this from where I sat. It was like the lights had gone out! Instead of vibrant stage settings, we had a dull clutter of stage-sets being annoyingly manually manoeuvred about the stage, distracting from the singing. The best laid plans...

The Three Ladies, Deborah Caddy, Rosanne Hosking and Meran Bow, were exciting and vibrant, charmingly full of personality, fluttering over the large stage, singing exquisitely. So too, the three genies – Sarah-Jane Pattichis, Lisa Cannizzaro and Rachel McCall – with attractive voices and stage presence, while wearing large wagging tails. Joanna McWaters sang the difficult and demanding role of Queen of the Night. It is a role that calls for a powerful presence to accentuate the pivotal appearances the queen makes. This, I felt, she was not able to achieve. The long blue pants worn as part of her costume did not help.

Naomi Hede (Pamina) and Adam Goodburn (Monostatos) © Darren Williams
Naomi Hede (Pamina) and Adam Goodburn (Monostatos)
© Darren Williams

There were allusions to Alice in Wonderland (which was subtitled “Down the Rabbit Hole”) and The Wizard of Oz and, most fascinating of all, Star Wars, with a modified lightsaber, apparently switched to ‘save’ mode, becoming Tamino’s flute, and bright red, green and blue eyed Jawas dancing to the music of Papageno’s magic bells, ringing out from his 1950s model phone. Adam Goodburn, the strangely dressed baddie Monostatos, was mean and nasty in his slinky movement and sensuous singing, as he hovered around the terrified Pamina.

Robert England's Sarastro seemed to struggle, although he was dressed spectacularly in long white robe. His, the priests and the other gentlemen’s costumes were, my masonic friend tells me, obvious derivations of masonic uniforms. The choir, wearing black and almost hidden behind curtains on either side, sang magnificently, culminating in a glorious wall of sound which brought the opera to a close. Mozart has the knack of concluding his operas with multi voiced harmony. It left the Queen of the Night holding a dead lightsaber and Tamino running off stage, I think suggesting he wanted out of this surreal world into which he had unwittingly fallen.

The Adelaide Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Luke Dollman, placed in front of the stage in full view of the audience, showcased an impressive view of their inspiring performance.

I thought it a successful production, flawed by the failure of a crucial part of the presentation, the transforming lighting effects I was expecting, needed to add the missing visual vibrancy. All should be made good in subsequent performances and as a result these presentations should be so much better.