Review: Triumphant night of opera magic

By William Dart

Randall Bills as Tamino in The Magic Flute. Photo / Supplied
Randall Bills as Tamino in The Magic Flute. Photo / Supplied

What new paths might Mozart have pursued had he lived to capitalise on the popular success of The Magic Flute?

Sara Brodie's spirited production for New Zealand Opera suggests he might have wooed Viennese audiences with something closer to Broadway musical than grand opera.

First-night anticipation certainly pours from the pit when Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra under the astute Wyn Davies delivers a sparkling overture, its clever fugues and solemn chords eventually vanquished by bustling jollity.

Brodie's enchanted fairytale has pace and style from the start.

Tormented young Tamino (a smoothly assured Randall Bills) is rescued by the Queen of the Night's three ladies - Amelia Berry, Catrin Johnsson and Kristin Darragh as a trio of arch Amazons with lust definitely on their agenda.

Kit Hesketh-Harvey's witty English translation is not afraid to nudge; dialogue draws belly laughs; cosy, corny rhymes bring on indulgent smiles.

Samuel Dundas scores as birdman Papageno, armed with panpipes and glockenspiel, determined to "get a missus with bells on". His agile baritone is matched by skilled scampering; his very laconic, Australian humour fires a final hilarious duet with Madison Nonoa's perky Papagena.

Caught in the middle of all this, Emma Fraser is a bright-eyed, clear-voiced Pamina, although Ruth Jenkins-Robertsson's Queen of the Night, dispensing chills dramatically, sometime rides uneasily on Mozart's coloratura roller-coaster.

Throughout, John Verryt's set is brilliantly resourceful, ominous trees providing everything from overhead bridge to mysterious portals which, along with a trapdoor, fuel ingenious stage business.

The Three Genii, voiced and puppeteered by sopranos Barbara Graham, Katherine McIndoe and Kayla Collingwood. Photo / Supplied
The Three Genii, voiced and puppeteered by sopranos Barbara Graham, Katherine McIndoe and Kayla Collingwood. Photo / Supplied

In the Masonic scenes, Wade Kernot exudes paternal warmth as Sarastro, but is disappointingly uncomfortable at the bottom of the stave. And, despite the golden hues of Paul Lim's lighting, a hearty chorus and James Clayton's nobly sung Speaker, there is still evil in the temple, with Bonaventure Allan-Moetaua's magnificently malevolent Monostatos.

Barbara Graham, Katherine McIndoe and Kayla Collingwood sang well as the three Genii, despite distracting and pretty basic puppeteering on the side. For me, three boys would have been more theatrically effective as guides to a new world and new experiences.

The Magic Flute still divides opera-lovers. Davies moulds extended musical sections with a real Mozartian flair, but spoken dialogue makes for fragmentation and, in 2016, the work's dramatic polarities can seem naive.

Yet, despite potential pitfalls, Sara Brodie emerges triumphant, binding the many and various elements together in a totally absorbing piece of theatre. Definitely not to be missed.

Samuel Dundas as Papageno. Photo / Supplied
Samuel Dundas as Papageno. Photo / Supplied

What: The Magic Flute

Where: Aotea Centre

When: Thursday, June 16

- NZ Herald

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