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An enchanting new production of Mozart’s classic

Review by Jason Catlett (full-sized adult critic)

If Mozart were alive today, would he be working for Disney? Or George Lucas? Maybe. If so, a Broadway version of his final opera might look something like this enchanting production originally directed by Julie Taymor, whose towering puppets and fabulous costumes made The Lion King musical globally famous. Mozart's first entrepreneurial venture from court opera to suburban theatre was also a box office hit, though he died only a few weeks into its run, in 1791. It has remained one of the world's favourite operas, and this version will be loved by just about everybody.
The plot may seem little more than a hodge-podge of recycled fairy tales and ripping yarns for German boys, and the libretto by Mozart's friend, business partner and fellow Mason Emanuel Schikaneder, is largely hastily written doggerel, but the careful consideration that Mozart devotes to the drama's development and themes such as self-restraint versus self-indulgence should make the seasoned viewer take it seriously.
Two benefits for newbies and children are the work's brevity (two hours including interval), and this version's adaptation into English. (Score 1-0 to Opera Australia artistic director Lyndon Terracini versus the Traditionalists.) Schikaneder's text had little poetry to be lost, and the highly thoughtful translation by American poet JD McClatchy actually sounds better than the original would to a living German. (Whether Terracini's next two translated Mozart operas will be as successful is less certain, because their librettist was an outstanding Italian poet.) But as an experienced actor and impresario (he was the original Papageno, the hero's sidekick), Schikaneder had an undeniable sense of what plays well to a popular audience, and Mozart was such a Teflon genius that his music soars with good in the text and is never hampered by the bad. After 200 years, this quickly and economically designed contraption works amazingly well on a big budget.
The singing on opening night wasn't always flawless, but it was highly enjoyable. Another plus for novices is the musical diversity of style, reflecting the varied competences of Mozart's original soloists. Melodies range incongruously from simple tunes no more difficult than a hymn (Mozart actually borrowed one of Luther's) to the near-impossible second aria of the Queen of the Night. Emma Pearson, the first of three Queens in the season's run, navigated its hairpin turns with admirable agility, swerving between the most delicate ornamentation to bellowing threats. (Mozart wrote it for his sister-in-law; the movie Amadeus would have us believe it was inspired by his mother-in-law's chastisements.) Operatunity Oz winner David Parkin made a suitably majestic Sarastro, the high priest of the Brotherhood, whose voice is as deep as the Queen's is shrill. The plot's main twist, which underlines the twin dangers of lying and believing everything you are told, is that he turns out to be the goodie, while she is really the baddie, and wants her daughter Pamina to kill him. The young Nicole Car is magnificently cast here; her lovely demeanour stands somewhere between Venus de Milo and Carrie Fisher; her voice and face beautifully convey the character's purity. Andrew Jones also deployed strong acting and vocal skills, making the slobbish birdcatcher Papageno irresistibly appealing. Opera Australia's finest comic, Kanen Breen, is predictably terrific as the pantomime villain Monostatos, resplendent in his fat suit, vampire wings and chicken claws.
The dancing rivals Las Vegas on ecstacy, particularly the avian beauty parade of pointy-breasted peahens and pink flamingos on stilts. The spectacular set by George Tsypin looks something like a rotating intergalactic children's play castle in transparent acrylic such as Leonardo da Vinci might have sketched for a Freemasonry amusement park. It's a suitably impressive and abstract sculpture for the opera's themes of Platonic ideals and extremes of light and darkness. There's so much to love about this show and almost nothing to dislike.


Review by Bill Blake (aged seven)

The Magic Flute was way better than I thought it was going to be.
I thought it was going to be a show for little kids, like a fairytale.
But actually it was about a man called Prince Tamino (Andrew Brunsdon) who went on a quest. He had to pass a trial of fire and water to be one of the triangle temple people. Then he could marry the princess, Pamina (Nicole Car).
When I got home I made a Lego Prince Tamino. I really liked his costume on stage. He was Chinese with a long fiery robe. He was a really good singer.
The story was set in a big glass cube onstage, that turned around. Each side of the cube had a different shape like a triangle or a circle. The actors came out of the shapes. The temple had a triangle, the Queen of the Night had a square and the forest had a circle. That’s where Tamino first appears and is attacked by a serpent. After that he meets a bird catcher called Papageno (Andrew Jones). He is really funny. He is always disobeying the rules, and he likes wine and ice cream.
I thought the curtain full of ancient symbols – like cuneiform or heiroglyphics – was weird. I was trying to work out what they meant.
The gigantic puppets were really good. I liked the serpent the best, it was like a giant Chinese dragon. The big blue bears were good but they were a bit flat. I was really amazed by the huge eagle that came out with the three little boy spirits riding on it. The boys were all in white with big white nappies and long white beards. At first, I thought they were short adults. They sang really well.
I really liked the bit where the silver bells made the bad guys dance like crazy.
This was my first ever opera. The singing was loud, and sounded holy. I liked it a lot. I’d like to see more operas. I would recommend this show for kids because the puppets are amazing and Tamino is a great prince. I like stories about princes. 5/5
Bill Blake's Lego Prince Tamino

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By Bill Blake (age 7); Jason Catlett   |  

The Magic Flute details

Bennelong Point, Sydney 2000

Telephone 02 9250 7111

Price $70.00 to $297.00

Date 06 Jan 2012-23 Mar 2012

Open 7.30pm

Director: Julie Taymor

Cast: Andrew Brundson, John Longmuir, Andrew Jones, Luke Gabbedy, Nicole Car, Hyeseoung Kwon, Emma Pearson, Suzanne Shakespeare, Angela Brun

Sydney Opera House map

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