The Magic Flute Review @ Adelaide Festival

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'The Magic Flute' 'The Magic Flute' Image © Iko Freese

'The Magic Flute' is among the most famous and accessible operas, but surprisingly it's not the music that is most memorable about this production.

Instead that honour goes to the spectacular animation that draws heavily on German expressionism but also incorporates influences as disparate as Saul Bellow's angular designs, giallo exploitation and Terry Gilliam's bawdy animations.

UK theatre company 1927 have done a superb job and their designs help to make this fantastical fairy story easy to follow as well as effectively isolating the soloists on the Festival Theatre stage. Even when the performers are still, the screen allows the set to move around them so that they can run, fly and descend into the earth without skipping a beat.

Coloratura soprano Aleksandra Olczyk is a clear highlight as the Queen Of The Night, and though she appears onstage in a body sleeve, the projections turn her into a giant arachnid, her spindly legs spreading out to cover the entire backdrop. It gives her a menacing presence and allows her to control the entire stage.

1927's phantasmagorical images evoke the whimsy and horror of this fantastical fairy tale equally well. 'The Magic Flute' is also full of humour, especially when the eminently fallible Papageno takes centre stage, and his comedic performance in this production evokes Buster Keaton.

At times, however, the pre-eminence of the visual element becomes too much of a distraction from the music.

'Der Hölle Rache' is a showstopper, one of the most famous and challenging arias in all of opera. And yet when Olczyk is performing, the audience intrudes upon her stunning performance by giggling at Kim-Lilian Strebel (who plays her daughter Pamina) as she writhes beneath a swarm of projected spiders. Sadly it's not the only time this happens, while at other points the lyrics also surprisingly draw forth a measure of (presumably awkward) laughter.

The social aspects of 'The Magic Flute' have dated terribly and the male characters are grossly patronising, but this production does at least avoid the racist elements of the original by casting the moor Monostatos as a Count Orlok-like villain.

This lavish spectacle is the result of an incredible amount of work and makes 'The Magic Flute' even more accessible to audiences. Sadly, one can't help but feel that it is at the expense of the opera itself.

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