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Visit the active LitNet platform at www.litnet.co.za

Vermaak | Entertainment > Teater | Theatre > Resensies | Reviews

Floored by the flute

Brendon Roelofse - 2007-10-10

Nearly a year ago I first heard that William Kentridge would be directing a production of Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute and I was immediately excited. Had tickets been available at that point I would immediately have made the purchase. Kentridge’s symbolically rich animation, in synthesis with what is probably Mozart’s most playful work, could not but – I thought instinctively – prove to be a huge success. I was clearly not alone in my assumption, as the tickets for the entire South African run of the opera were sold out a full two months before the show had even opened. This is a first for South African opera.

Of South Africa’s most renowned operatic exports, the likes of Musa Nkuna have returned home to perform for the duration of this opera’s local run. Other stars include Angela Gilbert (soprano) in the role of the Queen of the Night and Angela Kerrison (soprano) in the role of Pamina. Virtually every performer secured for Kentridge’s take on The Magic Flute has a string of worthy accolades behind their names. This was going to be big and I still didn’t have a ticket. A week before the opening night, however, I was given the opportunity to attend the dress rehearsal.

The dress rehearsal at the Civic Theatre in Johannesburg was supposed to begin at 6 pm on Friday, 28 September, but due to unknown circumstances was postponed to 7 pm, so I had arrived a full hour and a half early and was in a perfect position to observe the audience as they arrived. It was comprised of people of all ages and their enthusiasm was palpable.

The Magic Flute is the product of collaboration between Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Emanuel Schikaneder, and premiered on 30 September 1791 at the suburban Freihaus-Theater auf der Weiden in Vienna. Both men were Masons and one wonders, after the abundance of Masonic symbols that are littered throughout Kentridge’s production, whether he himself is tipping his hat to the fact. The musical work itself is an exemplary representation of the Classical period in Western art music and stands as one of Mozart’s more mature musical pieces. He died only a few months after the premier.

Sitting down in front of a massive Kentridge still used in lieu of curtains, and listening to the Johannesburg Festival Orchestra warming up, I would never have been able to guess, even with my high expectations, what a treat I was in for. Applause beginning from the elevated seats indicated that the conductor, Piers Maxim, had made his entrance. Maxim works primarily in Europe and has conducted numerous productions of The Magic Flute. With a bow and a tap of the baton the show begins and already at the start of the overture Kentridge’s magic begins to move across the stage. Progressively more complex and impressive animations are projected on to the stage as an accompaniment to the overture, the lighting mesmerising.

The Magic Flute has never looked quite the way it does through the eyes of William Kentridge. Mozart’s much loved opera takes on a brand new dimension as Kentridge’s well-known style animates its way through the opera. The projections are also the major source of visual effects in the production; they are used to great effect and with seemingly endless versatility. Kentridge succinctly captures the major themes of the opera with his art, and the setting becomes as important to the production as the story and the music.

In addition to the orchestral instrumental standard, a struck idiophone was added that consists of a piece of sheet metal secured between two solid poles. The sheet was struck as an audio effect, resembling thunder.

Kentridge’s artistic direction does not disappoint one. I’ve seldom enjoyed any theatrical performance as much as I enjoyed this one of The Magic Flute. The trials of love and life are represented through breathtaking images and animations, as well as in rich symbolism. I think Mozart would have loved this particularly whimsical interpretation. The music was excellently performed and profoundly interpreted. I was not alone in thinking this as "Bravo!" intermittently rang out from the audience.

The famous Queen of the Night arias are performed by Angela Kerrison (soprano) and though her breath work was slightly off on the night, I am certain that she is more than up to the task. The part of Tamino is performed by Musa Nkuna (tenor), the star of the show. His voice is remarkably smooth and always perfectly measured against the orchestra. It really is a pity that our homegrown talent is not more appreciated, or at least not enough for the cream of the crop to remain in the country. Praise also to Theo Magongoma (baritone) who interpreted the part of Papageno superbly. Musically he cannot be faulted, but it was his acting that was particularly delightful. His fanciful ways add great humour in a surprisingly South African way to The Magic Flute. The three ladies' roles are performed by Zanne Stapelberg, Sophie Harmse and Violina Anguelov. The harmonies are first-class and their opening act, together with Kentridge’s magical setting, sets the scene for what is surely one of the most spectacular operatic events in South African history.

The last musical observation that should be mentioned is the roles of the three boys. The parts are sung by Victoria Stevens, Ilse-Lee van Niekerk and Michael John Reeler. The sweet innocence of this trio and the pitch-perfect harmonies are truly a ride into wonderland. They might very well have wings hidden inside those costumes.

Great care was taken in the production of The Magic Flute. This is an astounding collaboration on a grand scale. Hats off to Mr Kentridge and company: his artistic interpretation in monochromatic splendour is ever evolving and singular. The Magic Flute was enchanting in all the old ways, but had the added bonus of making you feel as though you're falling down a rabbit hole to find a whole new world. An insistence that no one should miss this run would be lost, as tickets are all sold out, but should an opportunity present itself, make certain not to pass it up.

Kentridge’s The Magic Flute is on at the Civic Theatre in Johannesburg until 21 October.