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Review | The Magic Flute challenges audience expectations

The Magic Flute | His Majesty’s Theatre | til 23rd Feb | ★ ★ ★ ★

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British theatre company 1927 are known for their unique performances of bringing fantasy to the stage. It’s clear why renowned Australian director Barrie Kosky who is notorious for pushing an art forms’ limits, sought to collaborate with director Suzanne Andrade, animator Paul Barritt and performers from 1927.

Both Andrade and Barritt had little prior experience in the world of opera, which brought a very fresh and unique touch to this wildly inventive performance. Emanuel Schikaneder’s libretto (the story in which Mozart scored the music to) creates a fantastical, chaotic, fairy tale like world in which the plot unfolds.

This stylised production creates the sense of a picture book being brought to life through animations being projected onto the stage sized, solid white backdrop. Involving almost one thousand video animation cues that are triggered alongside the performers, Kosky’s production formed a style like I’ve never seen in opera.

The performance presents an expressionist era cartoon influenced by the style of Weimar cabaret which the performers become a part of. There were projections of giant knife legged spiders, pink elephants pouring cocktails, high heeled dancing owls, and mechanical toy monkeys which the performers became a part of or interacted with on stage. Incorporating imagery and symbolism from silent films, vaudeville, slapstick comedy, and intrusive, creepy cartoons; this productions constructs a nightmarish tyranny of colourful chaotic hallucinations.

Schikaneder’s libretto highlights reason and moral courage in seeking the enlightenment of pure love. Mozart and Schikander’s work refers to vast scenic and visual creations which is often only alluded to in other productions of The Magic Flute. Kosky’s creation tackles this element head on, utilising the projections on the screen to clarify the thoughts of the characters.

Whilst this production left little up to the audiences’ imagination, this was the first time I’ve picked up on many nuances and sub-plots in the story despite having seen this opera many times. As the animation cues were complete before rehearsals began, the interaction between animation and performer were pre-determined.

This style of performance meant that singers did not have as much input and character development as you would usually see in an opera as the interaction between the animation and performer was strictly programmed before rehearsals began. This made it difficult for performers to inject personality into their characters as it was very much already done for them.

For me this made the performance feel disconnected from the audience, however this only reinforced the archaic feel in the work. Despite this, there were stand out vocal performances from Christina Poulitsi who sung the role of the Queen of the Night and executed her highly anticipated arias with fierce but beautiful florid coloratura passages, and Joan Martin-Royo who brought a very charming and rich vocal depth to the character of Papageno.

Kosky’s production conveyed a complete make over to the fairy tale story that is one of the worlds’ most performed operas. As with all of Kosky’s productions, I believe this vividly profound, abstract production will challenge and impact the way we see opera in the future. I hope to see more works push the boundaries and challenge audience expectations in the way that this vivid and inventive masterpiece did.

Catch the final performance of The Magic Flute tonight, 7:30pm at His Majesty’s Theatre. Tickets and more information available from perthfestival.com.au

Claira Prider

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