October 2019

The Monthly Awards

The Monthly Awards 2019

The Monthly invited a panel of eminent critics, curators and practitioners to nominate the artistic works that they most admired and enjoyed over the past year. The resulting selection highlights the best of Australian arts and culture in 2019.

The Monthly thanks the members of its Arts Issue selection committee:
Alison Croggon, David Marr, Wesley Enoch, Jonathan Holloway, Stephanie Bishop, Benjamin Law, Terri-ann White, Michael Williams, Callum Morton, Katrina Sedgwick, Lisa Havilah, Brian Ritchie, Julian Day, Claire G. Coleman, Deborah Conway, Shelley Lasica, Susan Cohn, Miriam Cosic, Helen Elliott, Craig Mathieson, Geordie Williamson, Steve Dow, Luke Goodsell, Harry Windsor, Paola Balla, Annika Christensen, Julie Ewington and Sarah Holland-Batt

OPERA
‘The Magic Flute’
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Photo by Tony Lewis

This year Australians finally got to see and hear The Magic Flute, Barrie Kosky style, at the Perth and Adelaide festivals. The production was created at the Komische Oper Berlin, where Melbourne-born Kosky has been artistic director since 2012, and had become an international touring hit before making it to these shores. Kosky’s take on Mozart’s 1791 singspiel – German comic opera with spoken dialogue – was well worth the wait, which first required the director to get over the traditional panto and vaudeville of more traditional stagings.

His secret weapon was the Margate- and London-based production company 1927, famed for integrating film and animation into its live performances. The fresh approach by the company’s founders, writer Suzanne Andrade and illustrator Paul Barritt, who had been unfamiliar with opera, saw this production’s bird-catcher Papageno dressed like Buster Keaton, followed around by his pet black cat, while Pamina wore a bob cut and frock reminiscent of Louise Brooks, who played Lulu in G.W. Pabst’s 1929 film Pandora’s Box. Their nemesis, Monastatos, was a Nosferatu plucked from the 1922 silent German horror movie.

The animations surrounding the performers constantly surprised audiences with their imaginative invention. While the production was a pure joy to watch, the singing was often rendered secondary to the spectacle, but this was also reflective of the fact Papageno was originally written by and for the opera’s librettist, Emanuel Schikaneder, whose vocal range was less than virtuosic. In this Flute, Norwegian baritone Tom Erik Lie made our hero lovable, while British soprano Kim-Lillian Strebel was a feisty Pamina.

While Kosky insists it is “very unlikely” he would return to Australia to run an arts company, prudent local artistic directors will hopefully continue to bring his provocative takes on opera classics to our door, from the flamboyant flourishes on Handel’s oratorio Saul to the outrageous absurdism of Shostakovich’s The Nose. The broader audience appeal of The Magic Flute compounds the artistic loss when Australia allowed Kosky – “I’m still always going be Barrie from Melbourne who’s living in Berlin” – to permanently leave our shores.


Steve Dow

 
 
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