Kosky Blows His Magic Flute – And it’s a Catastrophe

(Directed by Barry Kosky, Festival Theatre, Adelaide, 2 March 2019)

A filthy hot early autumn, Adelaide buzzing with stock car racers; construction blocking easy access to the Festival Theatre, its bars cash-free to absolve staff from learning to do sums in their heads; refugee photos on the gallery walls; no paper towels in the men’s to conserve resources (you use a dodgy blower the size of a cigarette packet – wonder what is available in the ‘female and unisex’ facility?) and a sweaty, sun-burnt matinee crowd, applauding every number performed by the ‘B’ team – What else could one add to the mix?

Well, Mozart for one thing. His fantasy opera has some of the most glorious music, from brilliant overture to the moving final chorus, with a number of famous pieces along the way (the Queen of the Night’s famous aria, for example). As long as one doesn’t take the fantastic elements of the libretto too seriously, rejects the bait of hidden motifs and freemasonry, and retains the sense of humour and fun without sledgehammering them, you can’t miss.

Director Kosky, regrettably, has a ‘german’ sense of humour, and here he served us Mozart with a noisy, distracting, infantile production, full of visual touches and daddy jokes straight out of early Disney, middle Warner Bros., late Terry Gilliam and the lesser films of F. W. Murnau.

Kosky gets that The Magic Flute was designed “to amuse suburban audiences by means of machines and decorations, a bright and variegated mixture of marvellous events and coarse jests…”* but he doesn’t seem to understand that it is so much more.

The Queen of the Night (not from the Komische Oper production)

So we have comedy flourishes straight out of Weimar cabaret, moving animation that alternately pleases and palls, interesting exits and entrances at dizzying heights, and visual comedy below high-school level. It does not help that there is always someone (seated quite close) who laughs uproariously, like an orientalist^, at comedy already leaden when Schikaneder penned the libretto. The animatronics quite overwhelmed the production, which was otherwise pretty good: the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra under Hendrick Vestmann was fine; so was the Komische Oper Berlin Chorus. Of the players, we were impressed with ‘Mum and Daughter,’ (Christina Poulitsi as the Shelob-like Queen and Iwona Sobotka as Pamina), Insung Sim as a grave and sonorous Sarastro, and Ivan Turšic as the Nosferatu-like Monostatos (a Moor in white-face, in a bit of reverse racism).

Someone needs to take out an intervention order against this director, on behalf of opera houses everywhere.

[* Alfred Einstein, Mozart; His Character, His Work (1946), p.464.] [^ Now, that’s a joke – from Franny and Zooey by J. D. Salinger ]

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