Image: Iko Freese /

Sourced from West Australian Opera's Brad's Blog - The August Edition

I have admired Barrie Kosky's work as a director since Lindy Hume showed me a video of his OA production of Nabucco, over twenty years ago. Like all the best opera directors, Barrie infuses strong storytelling with visual inventiveness, deep musical understanding and fresh perspectives. He currently leads the Komische Oper in Berlin, and it's their production of The Magic Flute which opens our mainstage season in 2019, in collaboration with Perth Festival. 

This Magic Flute is a very different beast from the Järvefelt production which WAO last presented in 2014 (and which I conducted). That was all natural wood and fabric, with a muted colour palette, and was a celebration of Enlightenment ideals: rationality, modesty, and humaneness. Barrie's production takes a completely different perspective. In the words of Perth Festival:

Blending animated film and live action in a gloriously inventive kaleidoscope of 1920s silent movies, Weimar cabaret, dark humour and German expressionism, this visual fantasia is made for film buffs and art lovers, as well as fans of fine opera.

This mines a completely different seam to Järvefelt, and for some patrons it might come as a surprise. Mozart, and in particular The Magic Flute, is normally seen as the summit of humanity, wisdom and rationality. But Barrie quite rightly sees Flute as a magic box with lots of moving parts, and not only rational ones. How to make sense of a realm of fantasy, where animals dance to a magic flute, where attempted suicide, sexual assault and out-and-out racism all mingle on the stage?

The twentieth century on stage and screen was dominated by a philosophy of naturalism, where representations mirrored reality rather than fantasy. Puccini and the verismo composers sought to represent real life on the stage, and John Osborne and the British 'kitchen sink' style of theatre did the same. For a while, fantasy looked as though it would be relegated to entertainment for children only.

But opera cannot be, and never has been, confined to the everyday and naturalistic. Right from the start, it has included the hyper-real; gods and goddesses, lust and damnation, cataclysmic disruption and extremity. And it's this extremity which is a large part of its power in our culture, a correction to the legacy of naturalism in other artforms. Creative leaders like Barrie seek to release naturalism's iron grip over operatic representation. This doesn't mean that we have to forgo it altogether, but that naturalism can take its place alongside other modes (including expressionism, abstraction, symbolism, and cross-cutting) to weave a richer storytelling tapestry. Many opera stories - including Flute - actually sit rather uncomfortably in a strictly naturalistic framework. As I mentioned above, there are some important elements to the action which simply are not naturalistic, and they drive the story forward.

The most important thing - whether one talks about opera, Wonder Woman, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, or any of the non-naturalistic storytelling we increasingly enjoy - is that, however supernatural the powers and action involved, emotions remain real. And true, authentic emotion is at the heart of Barrie's Magic Flute, as much as in the Järvefelt.

In opera, we have at least one actual superpower: the human voice in its exaltation, singing stories. And it's for this, and all the other reasons I've mentioned above, that I urge you to get your tickets soon! Our recent run of Carmen was totally sold out, and although we are delighted by such demand, it does mean that some people missed out. I don't want that to be your experience in 2019!

Until next time,
Brad Cohen
Artistic Director, West Australian Opera

Mozart's The Magic Flute
20 - 23 Feb, 2019
His Majesty's Theatre
Tickets available here

Presented in association with West Australian Opera & West Australian Symphony Orchestra.