Opera on the Gold Coast became a feet in the sand, under the stars experience, with the staging of Mozart's best loved opera "The Magic Flute" on Greenmount Beach, at Coolangatta (May 9 – 11, 2014). What a classy, innovative production it was. Taking opera outside is a unique experience. The outdoor setting seems to enhance the authenticity of the scenes. The Queen of the Night's sparkling gown moving in the breeze, for instance, brings a feeling of realism to the scene. She could truly be outside the walls, at night, talking with the man she hopes will be her daughter's savior. Where else could the coming together of Tamino & Pamina be celebrated with a live fireworks display but at an outside venue? The sound of the surf to the right of our seats, the lorikeets in the trees to the left, all under the light of the moon and a skyful of stars, really made for a very unique event. Combine this with the magic of Mozart's music played by a live orchestra, the incredible voices and expert staging and you have one very wonderful evening.
Mozart's Magic Flute is the perfect choice for an introduction to opera. It's spoken and sung in English which creates a musical feel to the production. "The Magic Flute, or Die Zauberflöte, is one of Mozart's famous operas. It is a two act opera in the form of a Singspiel, which translates to a singing play." (classicalmusic.about.com).
The stage set is in the style of Indiana Jones, with a huge temple rising spectacularly out of the sand, guarded by two Egyptian sphinxes. Director Michael Gow set this opera in the 1930's, at a time when the public became fascinated with ancient Egypt, after the discovery of Tutankhamon's tomb in 1922. The logistics of designing and setting up of such a towering set, four stories high, which also has to fit onto a truck to move to 26 venues for Opera Australia's Regional Tour, would be challenging to say the least. I wonder what Mozart himself would have thought of the difference in staging, from the first performance in a Viennese suburban theatre in 1791, to a beach production in Australia in 2014. Breaking with tradition was the name of the game, with Opera Australia mixing recreational singers and professionals, with the chorus of 40 singers drawn from local community choirs. The vocal talent of Milica Ilic who plays the Queen of the Night needs special mention, as her parapet aria in act two, was exceptional. My only query was wondering why the orchestra was hidden to view, as their performance was magical and deserved to be seen. However, the orchestra was located behind the set, in a dedicated marquee, to ensure that their instruments were safe in any weather.
There is a clever mix of both serious and fun characters which makes for a good family night out. The humour in the taming of the villians with Papageno's music box was well done. The love-struck duet between Papageno and Papagena, bouncing each other's names back and forth between them, was delightful. The pièce de résistance had to be the arrival of Sarastro, borne by the members of the Tweed Heads and Coolangatta Surf Life Saving Club in traditional costume. What a fabulously Australian moment - what other escort would we expect on a beach but the iconic surf life savers?
The humour on the night was not just restricted to the stage, as the audience had their own sparkle. Arriving to take their seats and discovering the low slung beach chairs, initiated many cheerful comments. As one lady sank down into her seat, she laughed and said: "I hope they don't want a standing ovation – it'll take me a month of Sundays to get out of this chair" to which another chap replied: "We've got a pregnant lady down this end!"
One of the beauties of this uniquely Australian opera was the opportunity to take a picnic or nibbles into the venue. How much more civilized can you get, listening to the magic of Mozart, sitting with your feet in the sand, with the gentle chorus of the ocean while enjoying smoked salmon, cheeses, cold meats and fruit, to mention but a few of our choice picnic items. The low seating was perfect for viewing and afforded adequate space around you to stretch your legs and accommodate your picnic cooler. There was also a bar in the premium section, enabling us to bring a drink back to our seats, to enjoy during the performance.
Since The Magic Flute is all about adventure and romance, you won't get a better chance to spoil your loved one with a unique date, or the opportunity to introduce your family to opera.
This may be the inaugural Opera on the Beach but I am certain it won't be the last. As mentioned at the after party – "You haven't got a show if you haven't got an audience". So support culture in our city, otherwise projects such as these won't exist. It was great to see the Gold Coast community embracing this unique cultural opportunity. The beauty of this embrace was the fact that it touched the hearts of non-opera people and opera people alike.
If you are a fan of Opera or simply want the chance to experience opera locally, don't miss the performance of La Boheme at The Arts Centre Gold Coast on 9 August, 2014. Pucchini's story of Bohemian life, is set exactly 100 years ago and holds the promise of being "the most romantic opera of all time".