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Spellbinding Opera Puts the Magic into Winter

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Winter magic from the upcoming NZI Winter Season of The Magic Flute – an enchanting production presented in Wellington and Auckland by The NBR New Zealand Opera in association with Los Angeles Opera, during June-July. Photo credit: Ken Howard/LA Opera



28 March 2006

Spellbinding Opera Puts the Magic into Winter

A vivid and whimsical world of enchantment, filled with a colourful menagerie of hybrid creatures, terrifying ordeals, quirky comedy and glorious music, comes together in a single spellbinding experience for opera-goers this winter.

The NZI Winter Season of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, presented by The NBR New Zealand Opera in association with Los Angeles Opera, is created by an internationally esteemed creative team and will be performed by an outstanding opera cast. Boasting acclaimed sellout seasons across the United States, this dazzling and stylish production promises to bring operatic magic to Wellington and Auckland during June-July.

Essentially a romantic fairytale, The Magic Flute tells of the handsome prince Tamino’s quest to find the beautiful Pamina, whose image he has fallen in love with. During his search, Tamino encounters some mysterious characters: Pamina’s grand but menacing mother, some watchful guides, a lonely birdcatcher and the forbidding ruler, Sarastro. With terrifying ordeals to be conquered, Tamino’s magic flute may help him, but it is his own strengths that will be key.

Originally devised by one of Britain’s theatre giants, Sir Peter Hall, for Los Angeles Opera, this production welcomes the return to New Zealand of American director Stanley M. Garner. Garner has already successfully directed and staged this production for major opera houses from Seattle to Washington DC, making his own strong impact on it to critical acclaim. The New Zealand performances will be sung in German with English dialogue, and English surtitles.

Regarded by many as Mozart’s most irresistible opera, this production has been visually realized through eye-catching designs by renowned British cartoonist, Gerald Scarfe. Scarfe’s most iconic images include credits for television’s Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister; Pink Floyd’s The Wall; Disney’s animated feature Hercules and numerous sketches of politicians, royalty and showbusiness personalities. Venturing into the opera world with The Magic Flute, Scarfe has conjured up a wonderland where ancient Egypt meets art deco, including a transforming pyramid and an exceedingly colourful ark of fantastical beasts - such as a "crocoguin" (half penguin-half crocodile) - for the opera’s hero to charm with the mystical powers of his magic flute.

"This delightful opera is about a quest," explains Garner. "It’s a journey that the characters embark upon to find out what makes them happy. There are perils along the way, but they overcome them, and they find inside themselves what is important and triumph in the end.

"A wonderful aspect about this production is the ingenious hybrid animals; and the curious blending of fantasy with a story that is both a morality lesson and high entertainment dressed in a fairytale and told through Mozart’s glorious music. Its appeal makes it easily accessible to audiences of all ages who can’t help but get swept up in the journey and the magic that’s unfolding on stage."

Bringing Mozart’s tuneful and beautiful music into this confection is a strong cast of overseas and New Zealand singers under the baton of English conductor Alistair Dawes. Hero prince Tamino is portrayed by Australian tenor Adrian Strooper, who is a regular performer in the Opernstudio of Cologne Opera, Germany. As Pamina is the exciting young Australian soprano Tiffany Speight – also a trained dancer whose talents make her a star of musicals as well as opera.

English baritone Richard Burkhard sings the popular everyman role of Papageno. As the priestly Sarastro, is British bass Graeme Broadbent, a frequent performer in Europe’s festivals and a member of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

The Queen of the Night – a powerful figure whose two dramatic arias scale the heights of a soprano’s range - is Englishwoman Penelope Randall-Davis. She has been Queen of the Night for Rome’s Teatro dell’Opera, English National Opera, Welsh National Opera, Scottish Opera, English Touring Opera and Oper der Stadt Koblenz.

New Zealanders in the cast include Rodney Macann as the Speaker; and three up and coming opera performers, Kate Spence, Morag Atchison and Aivale Cole as the Three Ladies. Two former PricewaterhouseCoopers Dame Malvina Major Emerging Artists perform key roles: Carla Parry sings Papagena and Phillip Rhodes sings Monostatos – a character whose surprisingly coloured appearance has won a lot of attention during earlier stagings of this production.

The NZI Winter Season of Mozart’s The Magic Flute is at the Westpac St James Theatre, Wellington from 17-24 June; and at the Aotea Centre, The Edge, Auckland from 6-15 July.


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