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THE MAGIC FLUTE @ His Majesty’s Theatre gets 9.5/10


The Magic Flute @ His Majesty’s Theatre
Thursday, February 21, 2019

9.5/10

At His Majesty’s Theatre on a humid Thursday night, the audience gathered in anticipation of this production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute by the team of Komische Oper Berlin, Australian director Barrie Kosky and English theatre group 1927. Paired with WASO in the orchestra pit, the opera promised to transform this 200+ year-old piece into something contemporary and exciting for a modern audience. The performance more than exceeded expectations, delivering on multiple levels – singing, music, visuals, theatrics, drama, humour. The Magic Flute was an incredible visual and aural feast that left the audience spellbound, entertaining and engaging throughout and making the work relevant today through excellent performances and the use of extremely sophisticated technology as well.

The key to this production was having the performers appear on different levels and places along a gigantic flat wall. Significantly, this white wall is also the screen upon which crystal-clear, vividly coloured moving images are projected. The projections are animator Paul Barritt’s rather rough-hewn images of forests, structures, characters and other elements essential to convey the action. The animations were like a film unto themselves: cleverly drawn and rendered – not unlike illustrations in children’s storybooks – and the way the images were in lockstep with the music and action of the performers was a marvel to behold as they fused these elements into a convincing whole.

It was slightly unsettling at first to see the performers over 20 metres above the stage, especially when they appeared through revolving doors and hatches. But this had the effect of spacing out the action, taking advantage of the massive scale of the stage.

The overall look channelled early silent films and 1920s Weimar Germany. Actors had white-caked faces and heavily rouged cheeks, and the costume design featured bowler hats, flapper dresses and 19th and early 20th century hairstyles (e.g. bowl haircuts and hipster beards), with the leads channelling Buster Keaton and Louise Brooks. This look was heightened by the graininess of the projected images, including a kind of flicker effect seen when viewing silent movies.

The telescoping of time – music and story 200 years ago, silent film look of a 100 years past and computer-driven digital projectors now – made for a strange and wonderful state with which to take in everything.

For such an old comedy, the humour was freshened by the actors interacting with the projections, often care of a scene-stealing black cat, and indeed the gags and humour helped to immerse you more into the story and the performance. There were certainly some glaring throwback social mores about concepts of masculinity and the role of women in this 200-year-old work, but these were greeted more with titters rather than tuts from the audience.

The WASO performers were at the top of their game, effortlessly bringing Mozart’s wonderful music to life. And the Komische Oper Berlin singers were all amazing, from the Queen of the Night who appeared up near the rafters for her scenes, to the Harry Potter-esque schoolboys who cropped up repeatedly at unexpected times during the story. The three wisecracking ladies, the Nosferatu-like villain Sarastros and the chorus of wolves were other standouts in the cavalcade of characters on stage.

The Magic Flute is one of this year’s Perth Festival triumphs, and the lucky concert-goers who were able to experience the sold out season witnessed a bold reimagining of Mozart’s classic comedic opera by a world-class collaboration of top level talent. Rocked us you did, Amadeus.

PAUL DOUGHTY

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