Barrie Kosky’s hugely successful production of The Magic Flute for Berlin’s Komische Oper, co-directed with Suzanne Andrade from British performance group 1927, is coming to Australia in 2019 as a highlight of both the Perth and Adelaide Festivals it was announced today.

Kosky’s production of Handel’s oratorio Saul, first produced by Glyndebourne Festival, was the centrepiece of the Adelaide Festival’s 2017 season. The Magic Flute promises to be another exhilarating crowd-pleaser – and this time one that is very family-friendly, with Kosky recommending it as suitable for children from age seven.

Magic Flute, Barrie Kosky, Perth Festival, Adelaide FestivalThe Magic Flute. All photographs supplied

The production, which uses glorious hand-made animation by 1927’s Paul Barritt, premiered in 2012 at the Komische Oper, where Kosky is Artistic Director. It has since played to over half a million people in 22 cities across Europe, America and Asia. Fusing live opera with stunning animated tableaux, it has the look and feel of a silent movie, with the dialogue shown on screen.

It took Kosky a long time to decide to direct The Magic Flute, an opera he was never really keen on, having been bored by it when he was first taken to see it as a child. Asked why he decided to tackle it finally, he tells Limelight: “I think there were two things that brought me around. We had to do the opera at the Komische because we didn’t have it in repertoire, but the second and most important thing that brought me round was that I’d been recommended by an English friend of mine to go to Hanover to see this group 1927 who I’d never heard of.”

“The show started; it was one small screen with three actors, and within 10 or 15 seconds I went ‘oh really!’ because there was this beautiful animation and these performers interacting with these animation in a very low-tech but very beautiful and organic way. Within a few minutes I thought these people could work with me on The Magic Flute. So I went backstage and said ‘hello, I’m Barrie, do you want to do my Magic Flute?’”

Magic Flute, Barrie Kosky, Perth Festival, Adelaide Festival

Founded in 2005 by animator and illustrator Paul Barritt and performer Suzanne Andrade, 1927 is a multi-award winning company that specialises in integrating live performance and music with hand-made animation and film to create magical cinematic productions. The company has come to Australia several times before, charming audiences with productions of Golem, The Animals and Children Took to the Streets, and Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea.

When Kosky approached them, they knew little about opera and had never seen The Magic Flute. “In fact a week later they emailed me saying, ‘um, we’ve been watching different productions of The Magic Flute on YouTube and we think this is not for us’,” recalls Kosky. “And I said ‘right, maybe stop watching productions on YouTube and wait till we start talking’, because what they didn’t realise was you could interpret the story any way you want. [I said you’ll] just work with the music and the text and me, and we’ll find our own way through it.”

One of the important decisions was to put the dialogue from the opera on screen, as if in a silent movie, with piano music by Mozart underneath it.“The big question hovering about The Magic Flute is what the f**k are we going to do with the dialogue? I’ve seen productions where people cut the dialogue completely but then it makes no sense. I’ve seen productions where they’ve rewritten the dialogue. Okay you can do that, but it always jars with me, and thirdly you’ve got to actually work with what you’ve got and [Mozart’s librettist Emanuel] Schikaneder was an extraordinary person,” says Kosky.

Magic Flute, Barrie Kosky, Perth Festival, Adelaide Festival

“I think the problem with the dialogue is when you go and see The Magic Flute, most of the singers in a cast come from all sorts of different countries therefore you get very, very strange German. Even in Germany you get strange German. Because 1927 have used titles before I said ‘why don’t we extend that further and then we can actually use other Mozart music to accompany the dialogue like you would have done when you were watching silent films’ and that seems to have worked fantastically.”

The production requires the singers to interact precisely with the animation. “It’s a very big challenge,” acknowledges Kosky, “because Tamino, Papageno and Pamina are acting with each other and in this production they have to interact with the animation more than with the other characters. The floors are marked with very specific numbers, so they can work with the animation to bring the whole thing to life. Some singers love it and some find it a big challenge but most of them get through it. And you can’t have a fear of heights because a lot of the time they’re perched metres above in the air with a single security belt.”

As the production will be staged again in Berlin at the same time as Australia, half of the cast for Perth and Adelaide will come from Berlin and the other half from productions that have toured America and Europe. Koksy himself will not be able to be here as he will be directing an opera in France. “So unfortunately my spirit will have to be there, not my body,” he says.

Perth Festival has also announced three other program highlights. After thrilling audiences in 2017, the free outdoor spectacular Boorna Waanginy: The Trees Speak is returning to Kings Park for four nights over the opening weekend. Nouveau Cirque du Vietnam, the circus troupe behind the 2017 Festival hit AO Lang Pho will return with a show called Lang Toi (My Village), while Dimitris Papaioannou, the Artistic Director of the 2004 Athens Olympic Opening and Closing Ceremonies, will bring The Great Tamer to Perth. The surreal show explores the mysteries of life, death and humanity with dreamlike scenes and visual riddles inspired by Homer, Da Vinci, El Grecco, Caravaggio and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. From these, Papaioannou creates a series of live paintings using ten performers and a shape-shifting floor that undulates to Johann Strauss’s Blue Danube.


The Magic Flute plays at His Majesty’s Theatre, Perth, February 20 – 23, 2019 and at Festival Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre, March 1 – 3, 2019

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Limelight, Australia's Classical Music and Arts Magazine