To Cameron Menzies, director of Oz Opera Schools Company’s revival of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, which opened in Melbourne on 25 May, opera is above all about storytelling. “I’m a musician and I’ve worked as an actor, but it’s in text that I find most of my inspiration, and text that I use to create my own concepts,” he says.
No one would deny that music is a crucial element of opera, but story is what generally inspired the composer, and even though audiences come to have a musical experience, they also want to take away a story. “If they don’t, they feel cheated,” Menzies says.
Having worked as assistant director for Opera Australia and Victorian Opera, for which he mounted several versions of The Magic Flute based on other directors’ concepts (Christine Anketell originally directed the Schools Company Flute), Menzies says he’d love to develop his own concept for Mozart’s masterpiece. “It’s such a great story, and such a mainstay of the repertoire. I’d love to create my version of that world.”
|Stacey Alleaume as Pamina|
Even if he were directing a production for adults, Menzies would not want to impose himself on the page. “I find it pleasantly challenging to watch strange productions where the director pulls the score apart, then puts it back together in the order that he/she wants. But it’s not something that I particularly wish to bring to my own work.”
During a recent stint at Berlin’s Deutsche Oper, Menzies became aware of a backlash against the director’s opera for which German houses are known. “With funding no longer as generous as it once was, many companies are no longer able to put a production in the bin and start again, which is what they used to do. While in Berlin I read an article on the topic, and the last line said that directors should ‘remember that the real genius in the room is actually Puccini or Mozart or Wagner’. I agree with that and believe that I am an interpretative artist.”
|Ben Clark as Tamino|
As a lecturer in Stage Craft at Melbourne University, Menzies has seen many students face and overcome the challenges of bringing drama to life. Opera singers, he says, tend to struggle with “getting their thoughts into their bodies”. “For many singers, singing is something you do from the neck up, a natural thing to happen when for years you’ve worked only on the sound that you make.” He gets them to work on physical gesture as a psychological response to what they’re singing; and if it’s in a foreign language, to perform it in English, “so that they have a connection to the text in their own language”.
|Don Bemrose as Papageno|
Opera Australia's OzOpera Schools Company tour of The Magic Flute will also be showing at Melbourne Recital Centre on Monday 15 July at 11am: Click here for details and tickets.