Barrie Kosky and Suzanne Andrade's endlessly inventive production of The Magic Flute, imported from the prestigious Komische Oper Berlin, was a coup for this year's Auckland Arts Festival.
The Mozart work itself is problematic, veering from the musically and philosophically high-flown to knockabout low-brow, with melodies tuneful enough to merit a karaoke afterlife.
Here, though, it went down a treat, the audience chuckling and laughing at Paul Barritt's clever and intricate animation on the big screen behind the singers, even when there was nothing intrinsically funny about what was being sung.
Nevertheless, it all fitted with what might have been a comic-book adventure, starring young lovers Tamino and Pamina, a lovelorn bird-catcher Papageno, an evil Queen of the Night and the noble priest Sarastro.
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Musically, Mozart's score bounced and sighed in all the right places, over a limber Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, conducted by Jordan de Souza.
Among a solid cast, Kim-Lillian Strebel's beautifully phrased Pamina stood out, braving the on-screen sabre-toothed dogs of Monostatos, Charleston dancing during her mother's big number and enchanting us with a heavenly "Ach, ich fuhls." Joan Martin-Royo's Papageno was an irresistible scamp, reaching out to the Aotea audience as the librettist Emanuel Schikaneder must have done, playing the role in Vienna in 1791.
The cartoon play echoed everything from Weimar expressionism to Disney and Monty Python, with Mark McNeill's fortepiano stylishly conscripting Mozart sonatas to silent movie duties. Not a trick was missed, from an indestructible black cat to Papageno downing an onscreen pink cocktail before singing his aria against a backdrop of floating pink elephants. And, in one of the few moments when screen business was subdued, the men's chorus thrilled us in resonant song.
However, while it was shrewd to replace Schikaneder's often laboured dialogue with hip mottos and slogans on the screen, one did miss the three-dimensional interaction of conversation between characters. There were times when hardcore Mozart-lovers might well have felt as trapped as Tamino and Pamina in a computer game gone wild.
What: Auckland Arts Festival - The Magic Flute
Where: Aotea Centre
Reviewed by: William Dart