It might be dumbing it down (it’s definitely dumbing it down), but The Magic Flute, the famous opera comedy by Mozart, felt to me like a classical predecessor to Dreamworks’ Shrek. It’s a dark, twisted take on traditional fairy tales but it’s also filled with humour and romance. It plays like a satire, and was immensely entertaining overall.
In the opera, the mysterious Queen of the Night persuades the Prince Tamino to rescue her daughter from the even-more-mysterious Sarastro, a high priest with magical powers. The opera plays out like a journey, as the audience follow Tamino and his comical companion Papageno on their quest to find love and rescue the princess Pamina.
As is to be expected from a NZ Opera production, the costuming, set design and lighting are simple yet intricate, and used beautifully throughout the almost 3-hour show. Conductor Wyn Davies and director Sara Brodie deservedly received the biggest applause of the night.
The set manages to transport the audience to multiple mystical locations simply through subtle changes in lighting or with some wonderfully executed special effects.
The cast all have their time to shine, with Ruth Jenkins-Robertsson’s Queen of Night holding the audience in awe with her voice, and Papageno drawing plenty of laughs thanks to Samuel Dundas’ fun performance.
An opera written and traditionally performed in German, this production has been fully translated into English and, in my opinion, this is where the performance falters slightly. The language feels too modernized and ‘kiwi-nized’ in parts, and the dialogue – whilst often amusing – seems disingenuous. It also makes the slightly, err, ‘historical’ social ideologies about women that bit more noticeable. That being said, the English translation may make this production more accessible to a younger generation, so in that aspect it succeeds.
While most famous operas are notable for their tragedy, The Magic Flute is consistently funny, sweet and, as with all fairy tales, has a happy ending. A great night at the theatre for all ages.
Reviewed by Steward Sowman-Lund.
You can see The Magic Flute at Auckland’s ASB Theatre until 26 June.
Photo credit Marty Melville.