The Magic Flute

By Stella Gardiner

Artist: NZ Opera

Date / Venue: Tuesday May 31st, 2016 - St. James Theatre, Wellington

I can’t think of a nicer way to spend an icy cold Tuesday evening in Wellington than attending a performance of Mozart’s heart-warming fantasy The Magic Flute. In Wellington's exquisite St. James Theatre no less, where in April of 1963 the opera made it’s New Zealand Premiere.

Given the distinct lack of empty seats around me it seems I was not alone.

For those who aren’t familiar with this opera it is known as a Singspiel, a performance encompassing both song and spoken word.  As the story goes prince Tamino (Randall Bills) is given the task of rescuing princess Pamina (Emma Fraser), daughter of the Night Queen (Ruth Jenkins-Robertsson), from the sun-worshipping wizard Sarastro (Wade Kernot).  The clownish Papageno (Samuel Dundas) joins Tomino and together they undergo trials of initiation after realising they want to join Sarastro’s brotherhood along the way.  Following a daring rescue, then a separation, then being re-united Tomino and Pamina’s love finally triumphs and the bitter Night Queen is vanquished. 

From the very beginning the audience was engaged, applauding Conductor Wyn Davies as he led Wellington Orchestra in a grand rendition of the Overture.  This gave way to a rising of the curtain revealing the opening scene, Prince Tamino, alone in the woods about to become dinner to a gigantic humorous puppet snake.  And the audience loves it.

The set itself was an eclectic blend of fantasy and mythology; what begin as trees transform cleverly into ancient Egyptian pillars to the sound of booming thunder and lightening flashes, oddly complimenting the rain hitting the outside roof!

Randall and Fraser hit their notes perfectly, along with Dundas, delivering flawless performances.  Ruth Jenkins-Robertsson is strong however struggles a little with the Night Queen’s second Aria Hell's vengeance boils in my heart. Wade Kernot does his best with Sarastro’s blood-curdling bass notes but again; something isn’t quite en pointe here, as asserted by his aunt who just happens to be sitting in the seat next to me! 

A special mention to the Wellington Orchestra, who performed impeccably and delivered Mozart gracefully to an encapsulated audience. 

Recurring themes throughout the performance included, self-discovery, love, wisdom, friendship and strength of character. Also present are very adult themes and questionable attitudes toward women (by today’s standards anyway) however I would see these as symptomatic of attitudes during Mozart’s lifetime and should be viewed as such.  This is an old opera translated from German.

All in all I have to say this was a fun and entertaining performance, full of humour, surprises and fantasy.  Not to mention singing that sent shivers up my spine Magic music sound your chorus.  This is a delightful opera not to be missed.