St James Theatre 2, Wellington

28/05/2016 - 04/06/2016

ASB Theatre, Aotea Centre, Auckland

16/06/2016 - 26/06/2016

Production Details

Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; libretto: Emanuel Schikaneder
Director: Sara Brodie
Conductor: Wyn Davies

NZ Opera

A celebration of true love conquering all, Mozart’s The Magic Flute is the opera that has it all – drama, comedy, magic, good conquering evil and of course, the most sublime music.

This fairytale opera follows our hero, Prince Tamino as he seeks to save his beloved Pamina from the clutches of her evil mother, Queen of Night.

Suitable for the whole family, this magical new production uses puppetry to bring Mozart’s mythical tale to life.

New Zealanders Emma Fraser (Pamina) and Wade Kernot (Sarastro) join a cast of international singers making their New Zealand debuts; American tenor Randall Bills (Tamino), Australian Samuel Dundas (Papageno) and British soprano Ruth Jenkins-Róbertsson as Queen of Night.

Brought together by the inspired direction of Sara Brodie and conducted by New Zealand Opera’s Director of Music Wyn Davies, The Magic Flutesoars towards the sublime. From the first rousing chords of the overture, to the resplendent final chorus, this is life-affirming opera at its most powerful.

Accompanied by Orchestra Wellington and the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra. Featuring the Freemasons New Zealand Opera Chorus.

Die Zauberflöte  (The Magic Flute) was  first performed at Freihaustheater auf der Wieden, Vienna on 30 September 1791.

The performance lasts approximately 3 hours, including an interval of 20 minutes.

The Magic Flute premieres in at the St James in Wellington on 28 May, before transferring to Auckland’s Aotea Centre for a season opening on 16 June. 

The Magic Flute will be performed in English and combines singing and spoken dialogue. 

WELLINGTON: St James Theatre
28 May, 2 & 4 June at 7.30pm
31 May at 6pm
Tickets via Ticketek 

AUCKLAND: ASB Theatre, Aotea Centre
16, 18, 22 & 24 June at 7.30pm
26 June at 2.30pm
Tickets via Ticketmaster  

TAMINO:  Randall Bills
FIRST LADY:  Amelia Berry
SECOND LADY:  Catrin Johnsson
THIRD LADY:  Kristin Darragh
PAPAGENO:  Samuel Dundas
QUEEN OF NIGHT:  Ruth Jenkins-Róbertsson
MONOSTATOS:  Bonaventure Allan-Moetaua
PAMINA:  Emma Fraser
GENIE 1:  Barbara Graham
GENIE 2:  Katherine McIndoe
GENIE 3:  Kayla Collingwood
SARASTRO:  Wade Kernot
PAPAGENA:  Madison Nonoa

CONDUCTOR:  Wyn Davies
DIRECTOR:  Sara Brodie
COSTUME DESIGNER:  Elizabeth Whiting

CHORUS DIRECTOR (W):  Michael Vinten
GUEST VOCAL COACH:  Sharolyn Kimmorley
CHORUS REPETITEUR (W):  Catherine Norton

Featuring the Freemasons New Zealand Opera Chorus.
Sung in English. English Translation: Kit Hesketh-Harvey.

COMPANY MANAGER:  Miriam Emerson 
STAGE MANAGER:  Kate Middleton-Olliver
ASSISTANT STAGE MANAGER:  Eliza Josephson-Rutter
ENGINE ROOM DIRECTING INTERNS:  Ahi Karunaharan, Benjamin Henson
HEAD OF LIGHTING:  Jason Morphett
HEAD MECHANIST:  Allan Rockell
HEAD OF WIGS & MAKEUP:  Coleta Carbonell
CARPENTER:  Frank Checketts
CARPENTER:  Stephen Ullrich
SURTITLES OPERATION (W):  Christine Pearce and Jim Pearce 
SOUND OPERATOR (W):  James Woods  

Theatre , Opera ,

3 hrs incl. 20 min interval

Triumphant night of opera magic

Review by William Dart 20th Jun 2016

What new paths might Mozart have pursued had he lived to capitalise on the popular success of The Magic Flute? Sara Brodie’s spirited production for New Zealand Opera suggests he might have wooed Viennese audiences with something closer to Broadway musical than grand opera.

First-night anticipation certainly pours from the pit when Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra under the astute Wyn Davies delivers a sparkling overture, its clever fugues and solemn chords eventually vanquished by bustling jollity.

Brodie’s enchanted fairytale has pace and style from the start. [More


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Has the Flute lost its Magic?

Review by Sharu Delilkan 18th Jun 2016

Having sat through almost three hours of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, including a 20-minute interval (which is pretty normal for an evening at the opera), I couldn’t help wondering why I felt so utterly and truly disappointed as we filed out of the theatre. With a title like The Magic Flute which undoubtedly conjures fantasy and magical imagery, the treatment of this production does just the opposite.

I have taken all this time to reflect on the content of the show and what I struggled with was the relevance of the piece and its unacceptable themes of misogyny and racism which left a bitter taste in my mouth. [More]  


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A very intelligent production with sound musicality and dramatic whimsy

Review by Michael Hooper 17th Jun 2016

Spangled curtains open to reveal a dramatic slippery slope that veteran John Verryt has designed for singers to negotiate as they bring Mozart’s ‘comedy with machines’ to the Aotea Centre’s ASB theatre. It also becomes a metaphor, as celebrated British soprano Ruth Jenkins-Róbertsson and fondly regarded Kiwi-raised bass Wade Kernot take up the challenge of some of popular opera’s most naked high and low notes.

A few high profile moments should not cloud or crown a magical three hours of theatre (the plot of which is well covered in our Wellington reviews) but they cannot be ignored.  In her best and most fluid running moments, as in the first aria, ‘Oh Do Not Tremble’, Jenkins-Róbertsson as Queen of the Night leads the cast in projection and vocal assurance, but when achieving the notorious high Fs in Act 2 (My Heart is Seething) she stalls on the ascending stairway and her tone becomes squeezed.

The low F2 of Kernot’s generally impressive Sarastro is likewise achieved, but with little power or ductility. History shows that Jenkins-Róbertsson has better to offer, while Kernot still has the time and potential to grow into such roles or discover those to which he is best suited. Both extreme and vocally vulnerable moments have the audience on the edge of their seats.

The greater question is whether the production succeeds, dramatically and musically, to entertain in the easily comprehensible yet satirical way that Mozart and his populist entrepreneur librettist Emanuel Schikaneder might have wished, and to that the answer must be yes.

Certainly the unusual decision of NZ Opera to present the work in English (with surtitles) is key, following the example of Mozart who wrote Flute in the vernacular for its Vienna debut. The prospect of a ‘singspiel’ with up to two pages of continuous dialogue being delivered in a foreign language must have been sufficient to galvanise a departure from the company’s original language philosophy. Use of a witty English interpretation by musical comedy exponent Kit Hesketh-Harvey (who worked on the Vicar of Dibley television series) could alone have justified the language decision. It allows, for example, Papageno to goad the audience into a humorous, almost Vaudeville interaction, as he proposed ending his life in despair. 

Among the commentators on Papageno and princess Pamina’s despair are the “three boys”, played here by Barbara Graham, Katherine McIndoe and Kayla Collingwood with the use of ET-like, sepulchral puppets.  I would have preferred to see these promising singers unobscured, or even totally hidden from vision, as the puppet device is whimsical but adds nothing. 

The other trio is charmingly coordinated and sweetly harmonic.  The ‘Ladies’ (or damen) are Kristen Darragh, Catrin Johnsson and the blossoming Amelia Berry, who displays more technique and maturity of voice with every role she undertakes – without losing the freshness and vitality she brought to her Clorinda in last year’s NZO production of La Cenerentola. Their appearance and delicious encounter with the horizontal prince is reminiscent of a number by glittering seventies Motown trio, The Three Degrees.  

If ever there were a testimony to the efficacy of the Dame Malvina Major young artist development programme, in this production it is Berry and Darragh. That support has also fuelled Madison Nonoa (an engaging Papagena) and the luminant Emma Fraser.

For me, Emma Fraser and Speaker/Priest James Clayton are, respectively vocally and dramatically, the local stars of this Masonic firmament. She radiates as Pamina, with a sweet, assured voice of honeyed texture. Her easy stage manner adds alluring vulnerability to her song with the three boys, ‘Soon Heralding the Morning’. He evinces diction and command of the stage. With so much monologue and dialogue, the Australian-born, but Wellington-resident bass’s ability to pace, pause, nuance and effectively paint the air with words has much to teach the more hasty cast members for whom acting is not such a strength. 

That said, the Aussie-bloke Papageno presented by Samuel Dundas is a salt-of-the-earth, crowd-pleasing delight with a rich voice and natural audience rapport. His mission to “get a missus with bells on” gathers us along as surely as the DOC guide he resembles. “Watch it mate,” he exclaims, and we do.

Like many operatic treks, this leads us to the tenor. Elizabeth Whiting’s costume design leaves Randall Bills unencumbered by heroic garb, dressed in an open, light flowing shirt or singlet that perfectly echoes his lyrical and accurate voice: free, open-throated, warm and engaging.

The withered appearance of second priest (rising talent Derek Hill) and the Queen of the Night herself – more a crone of the night – are less explicable. Bonaventure Allan-Moetaua completes the cast competently, keeping his evil Moor within believable bounds. 

Director Sara Brodie has been relatively restrained in not imposing distracting choreography, and allowing the plentiful allusions and themes to emerge organically – with a little help. That said, the ‘show’ omits few tricks of the trade, including a serpent with retractable tongue, a giant spider worthy of Weta Workshop, recorded sounds and weather effects, and LED floor lighting for the scene of passing through fire (the water trial is less impressive, looking more like a morning walk in San Francisco). Hollow columns with surprising content add magic, lighting is suitably moody, and the stage instruction to finally transform the theatre into a sun is simply but strikingly observed.

While the amplified voices off-stage sound thin, the 30-strong Freemasons NZ Opera chorus, when fully present on stage, performs with its usual vocal velour and veracity. The Auckland Philharmonia plays homogenously under the deft yet, on this occasion, measured baton of NZO Director of Music Wyn Davies, restraining some of the more Handelian pomp but pleasuring with some nicely lifted expression from woodwind and brass families, the clarinets especially.

Paying its dues to Masonic allegory, Viennese farce and Oriental fairytale, this is a very intelligent production, making creative use of NZ Opera’s resources on a compact fantasy set, with sound musicality and dramatic whimsy. 


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Brilliant production, with mainly New Zealand cast of polish and energy

Review by Lindis Taylor 31st May 2016

This production that has engaged a number of young and highly promising New Zealand singers (only three from overseas), was probably among the most spectacular (and expensive I imagine) ever seen in New Zealand. Happily, it also succeeded in capturing the essential qualities of this hybrid work. It combines singspiel, comic opera, mime, vaudeville, employing a text that mixes Masonic ritual and ancient Egyptian religion, a touch of Christianity with the Enlightenment in an intellectual atmosphere bred of French revolutionary politics.

There was a pretty full house and the audience was highly responsive to the entire performance. [More


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Consistently high standard at every level, through every detail

Review by Michael Gilchrist 29th May 2016

“In vain you loved Mozart – now comes the deafness of spiders…,” wrote the Russian poet Osip Mandelstaam in the 1920s, contemplating the rise of social Darwinism in his time. But here again, in NZ Opera’s most recent production, we experience the triumph of Mozart’s musical vision over the current shapes of our nightmares, the terrors of darkness and death. 

Only Mozart can give us this sense of the inexhaustible reserves of melody and structure – of an inherent, somehow insouciant order to human life. All that is required of us is that we think of a note or a number, that we make a sound, whatever seal is put on our lips – then one sound opens into another as if it had been there, waiting for us, all along. 

Certainly this production makes this meta-narrative – this story about music itself – beautifully clear. The details are allowed to flourish, deftly updated in terms of technology and yet with a lucid sense of a tradition reaching back to the first productions. In her Director’s notes, Sarah Brodie talks of her initial conception of The Magic Flute as a director’s dream – an open text that required a strong vision – before  quickly realising that the opposite is the case. She has, she says, allowed the Flute to ‘do’ her rather than the other way around.

Part of the interest in this approach lies in the fact that this production is entirely a New Zealand one and not the result of a collaboration with opera Queensland or any of the other Australian state opera companies. My feeling is that we would have encountered a more assertive interpretive strategy if it were – and as we no doubt will again. But here is a chance to savour a different approach.

As we have come to expect from NZ Opera, this is a superbly realised – one may as well say flawless – production. John Verryt must be congratulated on an imaginative, cunning and robust design that enables the farce-like plurality of exits and entries in style. I like the intuitive balance between iron and wood. This pays off in many ways but especially when Papageno becomes the second character to threaten suicide. We feel the physical plausibility of his threat.

The set and lighting design also delivers a very satisfying coup at the climax of the story, prepared with admirable restraint. The lighting design by Paul Lim is equally adept and makes excellent use of contemporary resources. The puppetry is also excellent – I will avoid spoilers but this is an undoubted highlight of the evening. Elizabeth Whiting’s costume design fits very well with the other elements and is fairly conservative – at least as far as the Papagenii are concerned. It is effective though, particularly with the three ladies who serve the Queen of the Night. 

Musically, after a curiously tentative first few bars, one feels Director of Music and Conductor Wyn Davies to be utterly at home in the spirit of the music. He dances on the podium and Orchestra Wellington responds in kind. I’m sometimes puzzled by Wyn’s tempi and I felt this again in the first few minutes – but then this feeling melts away and they seem effortless thereafter. The same may be said for his rapport with the singers. 

The singing itself is uniformly excellent.  American tenor Randal Bills as Tamino has a particular beauty of tone with no lack of strength – and he moves with real confidence.  New Zealand soprano Emma Fraser as Pamina also has a voice of real beauty. The matching of these two voices is, well magical. They are very ably backed by the rich but nimble baritone of Australian Samuel Dundas’ Papageno.

In the parts that require bravura technique – the Queen of the Night and Sarastro – both singers manage very well by building solid characters in their acting and making the music serve its dramatic purpose. I think one must need great courage to undertake either part but Wade Kernot as Serastro and Ruth Jenkins-Robertson as The Queen tackle their roles with gusto and deliver admirably.

Serastro’s Lieutenant, James Clayton, also impresses as does Bonaventure Allan-Moetaua as Monostatos.  The three ladies – Ameila Berry, Catrin Johnson and Kristin Darragh – gt the opera off to a splendid start. They are comic and sexy at once, singing effortlessly and setting a very high standard with their acting.

A feature of this production is the opportunity for younger talent to gain experience and the three genii – Barbara Graham, Katherine McIndoe and Kayla Collingwood – sing and manage their puppets with great skill. 

The chorus are superb, as always – and special mention must be made of the Freemasons Foundation whose sponsorship of the chorus chimes happily with the origins of the brotherhood depicted onstage. 

It must be said again that the overall level of this production, through every detail, is of a consistently high standard. We are fortunate indeed in Auckland, Wellington and, sometimes, Christchurch to be furnished with theatre in such fashion. Since I’m a critic, I will say that I prefer interpretations that carve out meanings a little more. I think there are gains to be made in this way, if only in terms of obviating some of the gratuitous misogyny of the piece. But here perhaps we may be seduced by Kit Hesketh-Harvey’s delightful English translation. This is full of humorous touches and never allows us to forget that a certain lightness of heart is essential to overcoming the darkness of the night.


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