To mark its 50th anniversary, Australia’s preeminent opera company, Opera Australia, has mounted a gorgeous new production of “The Magic Flute,” among the most expensive in org’s history. OA programs Mozart’s final opera every few years, but prior to this new staging of the audience favorite it had been trotting out the same production for a quarter-century. Timed to celebrate the 250th anni of Mozart’s birth, this is one of four works by the composer in the company’s inaugural touring season.
“Flute” is the perfect vehicle to take Opera Australia out of its comfort zone and into a collaboration with cutting-edge Oz physical theater company Legs on the Wall.
The production pulses with physical theatricality, utilizing Julie Taymor-style puppetry and wirework. The big spend is evident in the vast cast and lush set. Acrobats costumed as jungle animals and nymphs roam and cavort across Dan Potra’s rich jungle-green set of hanging vines and ladders reaching into the heavens.
Potra has gleefully discarded the costume rule book with creations that run the gamut of contemporary street wear, Eastern- and Western-inspired period formal attire and theater kitsch (i.e., vagabonds in sackcloth).
Making major-role debuts, Emma Matthews and Amelia Farrugia are stellar and Warwick Fyfe’s scene-stealing Papageno (resembling Gerard Depardieu’s Cyrano) gets the laughs.
David Freeman directs the cast to use broad Australian accents when delivering the spoken English lines. “Ah! The beautiful girl is here!” gargles Papageno like an Aussie barfly. The accents — coupled with the Aussie idiom and starkly interspersed with Emanuel Schikaneder’s full-bodied German arias — ground the production, though they might confound foreign auds.
This staging of “The Magic Flute” won’t please the purists, but that’s the point. It has immense appeal for almost everyone else.