REVIEW: The Magic Flute (NZ Opera)

Review by Sharu Delilkan

The Magic Flute

[Has the Flute lost its Magic?]

Having sat through almost three hours of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, including a 20-minute interval (which is pretty normal for an evening at the opera), I couldn’t help wondering why I felt so utterly and truly disappointed as we filed out of the theatre. With a title like The Magic Flute which undoubtedly conjures fantasy and magical imagery, the treatment of this production does just the opposite.

I have taken all this time to reflect on the content of the show and what I struggled with was the relevance of the piece and its unacceptable themes of misogyny and racism which left a bitter taste in my mouth.  Had the production managed to achieve a sense of Zauber aka magic and suspend my disbelief I might have been able to stomach the NZ Opera’s blatant disregard for tackling and updating these archaic points of view.  Instead it made me feel highly uncomfortable throughout the evening and unhappy with the way in which women and native(s) were being portrayed. It seems that a majority of the audience, that frequents the likes of the opera, wouldn’t bat an eyelid or even perceive this content to be contentious in any way.

Going back to the lack of Zauber I knowingly risk contradicting myself as I comment on John Verryt’s set.  Phenomenal and mind blowing are two words that don’t even begin to do it justice. However despite its mystical nature, everything else that we were subjected to on stage wasn’t!  Having a fantastical set does not a magical night make on its own.  There is no question that director Sara Brodie is amazingly skillful at teasing out the comedy throughout, however once again it is the lack of magic that makes it impossible for us to ignore the elephant(s) in the room.

And to make matters worse the translation from its original German libretto into literal English magnified these ugly themes even more grotesquely.
With conductor Wyn Davies at the helm the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra was in perfect form as always, performing Mozart’s score with precision and articulation in equal measure.
And despite all the visual bells and whistles provided by Verryt, alongside Elizabeth Whiting and Lisa Holmes’ gorgeous costumes and Paul Lim’s fabulous lighting, the show’s excellent production values were just not a sufficient enough veil to cover up the jarring story-lines heralding misogyny and racism.
The Magic Flute is presented by NZ Opera and plays at the Aotea Centre until 26 June. Details see NZ Opera
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2 Comments on REVIEW: The Magic Flute (NZ Opera)

  1. Complaining about the sexism of an 18th C piece is pointless, how can the libretto be “updated” without completely destroying the story? You have to take it for what it is in the context of the time it was created. We can’t rewrite history or artworks to suit our views today. That would be a horrible idea. The music is sublime just enjoy it.

  2. I agree completely with the following sentiment, “NZOpera’s blatant disregard for tackling and updating these archaic points of view. Instead it made me feel highly uncomfortable throughout the evening and unhappy with the way in which women and native(s) were being portrayed. It seems that a majority of the audience, that frequents the likes of the opera, wouldn’t bat an eyelid or even perceive this content to be contentious in any way.”
    I found it disappointing and uncomfortable – if the English libretto translation was the director’s idea of a modern quirk on the classic (which was really more a Broadway feel than an Opera), I don’t understand why she couldn’t take a challenging, fresh look at the misogyny and racism either. Overall I felt like it was a waste of money and a Friday evening.

    The set however was magnificent and a true work of art as was the orchestra.

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