The Magic Flute at ASB Theatre, Aotea Centre

By William Dart, Reviewed by William Dart

The Magic Flute is a unique concoction of pantomime and freemasonry. Veering from knockabout farce to the noblest of temple ceremonies, NBR New Zealand Opera's production serves Mozart and Schikaneder well.

Director Stanley M. Garner might point out the complexities of the characters' outer and inner journeys, but most of us are kept in constant thrall by the wit and invention of Gerald Scarfe's sets and costumes. The curtain rises on the first of many Scarfescapes, inhabited by a puppet-like Tamino, a giant, phallic snake and three ladies who look ready to take on thunderbolts and win.

There are many magical moments, as when Papageno's flute coaxes a menagerie of weird, cuddly beasties from the wings, or Michael Knapp's expert lighting casts a golden glow over the temple scenes.

Penelope Randall-Davis is an outstanding Queen of the Night; her Der Holle Rache, though sedately paced, is so thrilling that I find myself resenting the gimmicky presentation of her earlier aria.

Australians Adrian Strooper and Tiffany Speight are Tamino and Pamina, nicely enough drawn, although Speight seems more the natural Mozartian, with the shapeliest of singing in Ach, ich fuhls.

Richard Burkhard's Papageno, in a flurry of feathers, is a practised hand at camp scamper a la Frankie Howerd, with a warm baritone that serves the music well.

Graeme Broadbent's Sarastro is sympathetic, although, with an obvious lack of comfort in the lower register, less imposing than one might have wished.

The local singers hold their own, from the quiet authority of Rodney Macann's Speaker to Carla Parry's perky sprite of a Papagena.

Thursday's audience took the three ladies to their collective bosom. Morag Atchison, Aivale Cole and Kate Spence rustled their bustles with glee, dispensing Mozart's ensembles with style, and benefiting from Garner's assiduous charting of their stage business.

Phillip Rhodes' Monostatos, in bilious, flabby green and orange, reveals one problem of the general Disneyfication. Rhodes acquits himself well - he's a robust actor and no mean singer in his second act aria, but it is disturbing to see his attempted rape of Pamina, one of the opera's darker incidents, played as farce.

With the Chapman Tripp Opera Chorus at its professional best and the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra warming up as the evening progressed, all under the expert baton of Alistair Dawes, The Magic Flute was an evening of many enchantments.

When: Thursday night and until July 15

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