Cape Town Opera has brought Mozart’s The Magic Flute into the present without diminishing its impact or tampering with its iconic score. The enactment is a feast for the senses, showing off the very best of South African opera, musicianship and stagecraft.
Although The Magic Flute lends itself to colourful visual interpretation, director Matthew Wild – along with set and costume designer Michael Mitchell – has added a modern whimsy to the stage that is unique in its league. The seamless inclusion of video in the spectacle is particularly intriguing. Kirsti Cummings’ illustrative multi-media design serves as a present day narrator, giving relevance to the story while leaving the music and script unchanged.
The opera plays out in the context of a music student’s feverish dream, granting even more creative freedom to the concept of each scene. Galaxies float behind each door and window – gentle reminders of the dreamlike world in which the story plays out.
As for the performers, soprano Brittany Smith as Pamina and baritone Martin Mkhize as Papageno reveal a charming sensitivity and emotional range in their sustained vocal performances. Leah Gunter makes the famed Queen of the Night’s aria seem effortless.
On researching The Magic Flute prior to opening night, I learnt to look out for the three chords which mimic the dramatic arc of the opera in miniature. The opening chords create a tangible sense of anticipation and the Cape Town Pops Orchestra executes these bars, and every bar that follows, with grace and elegance.
Symbolism, old and new, informs each scene, making for a self-aware production that goes far to examine the misogynistic and racist threads that have previously rendered the opera problematic. The power of music remains a strong theme in both the narrative and the production as a whole.
Far from the stuffiness with which opera is often associated, Cape Town Opera’s production of The Magic Flute is a forward-thinking, inventive display of creative South African talent. As an opera newcomer, my only fear is that this particular interpretation has set my future expectations a little too high.
Cape Town Opera’s The Magic Flute is on at the Artscape until 10 December 2017.