I’ve seen many adaptations of L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz which was originally published in 1900.
From the iconic 1939 Hollywood movie musical starring the legendary Judy Garland, the creepy 1985 film Return to Oz, the forgettable 2013 movie Oz the Great and Powerful, TV miniseries Tin Man, to musicals such as The Wiz, and of course, the phenomenal Wicked. But what I haven’t seen before is the story done opera style, that was until I feasted my eyes on Victorian Opera’s Australian premiere of IL MAGO DI OZ which opened on the 27th of August 2022 at Melbourne’s Palais Theatre.
IL MAGO DI OZ is the perfect introduction to the opera not only for the little ones, but for the whole family. Whether you are a massive Wizard of Oz fan, have always been curious about the opera, or you’re a seasoned opera attendee, IL MAGO DI OZ is a highly recommended experience.
We all know the story of Wizard of Oz; Dorothy’s house is scooped up from the tornado that ploughs through her small little Kansas farm and transports her to Oz, a weird, wacky, and wonderful world that is so far removed from her pleasant country life. Seeking to return from whence she came, with tips from a ‘good’ witch, a new pair of shoes, Dorothy seeks out the gifts of The Wizard, befriending a ‘brainless’ Scarecrow, a ‘heartless’ Tin Man, and a cowardly Lion. Because this 122-year-old story is very familiar to us all, the opera is also very easy to follow.
Accompanied by the talents of the Victorian Opera Youth Orchestra and the Victorian Opera Chamber Orchestra, the IL MAGO DI OZ cast consists of The Wicked Witch of the West played by Shakira Dugan, The Good Witch of the North played by Amelia Wawrzon, The Good Witch of the South played by Kate Amos, The Queen of the Field Mice played by Teresa Ingrilli, Tiernan Maclaren as The Wizard of Oz, Michael Dimovski as The Scarecrow, Stephen Marsh as The Tin Man, James Emerson as The Cowardly Lion, and Dorothy played by Georgia Wilkinson.
While I wasn’t familiar with Pierangelo Valtinoni‘s work, the arias and music in IL MAGO DI OZ are truly stunning. It only helped that the entire cast were convincingly solid throughout their performances and really made these iconic roles their own. The production is particularly enchanting when Wilkinson, Dimovski, Marsh, and Emerson meld their voices together effortlessly, and I found myself awestruck with the beautiful melodies and harmonies I was hearing. This was enhanced tenfold when the main cast are joined by the Victorian Opera Youth Orchestra and the Victorian Opera Chamber Orchestra, creating truly magical moments on the Palais Theatre stage.
From reading the surtitles, I couldn’t help but laugh at the language used to make the dialogue feel more Australian, from the use of ‘G’day’ and ‘mate’, it’s clear that Victorian Opera have a sense of humour, but this is also assisted by the tone and dialogue of Valtinoni’s opera itself. The audience, including myself, were often laughing in the first half of the opera. Despite being such an old tale, Pierangelo Valtinoni breathes new life into the famous story and although extremely familiar, IL MAGO DI OZ still feels fun, fresh, modern, yet respectful to the original source all at the same time.
The second half is a lot more serious, but I found this a welcome change. I found Dorothy a lot more human and relatable when she takes a moment to think after being requested to kill The Wicked Witch of the West, revisiting her morality.
Although a minimal stage with the orchestra in the middle conducted by Chad Matthias Kelly, surrounded by a staircase, the production manages to create the illusion of being transported to Oz. With the clever use of lighting and projectors designed by Daniel Gosling, the show begins by displaying what appears to be a black and white movie, before the curtains reveal our protagonist. With the assistance of the Victorian Opera Youth Orchestra and Victorian Chamber Orchestra in their white attire, audiences are easily transported throughout Oz, whether to a field of poppies or Emerald City itself. The costumes by Mel Serjeant are also gorgeous and I really want to steal those witches’ dresses for Halloween! The masterpiece of Serjeant‘s pieces though would be the silver cowboy boots with red gemstones as Dorothy‘s shoes.
Overall, Victorian Opera’s IL MAGO DI OZ is charming, delightful, and it was so wonderful to see The Wizard of Oz in a new light with the perfect combination of sass and sweetness. There’s just something so magical about being taken on adventure without ever really needing to leave your theatre seat.
IL MAGO DI OZ is only on for two rare performances at Melbourne’s Palais Theatre on the 27th of August and again on the 30th of August. Considering there’s only one more performance yet, you need to grab your ticket to follow this Yellow Brick Road before it disappears.
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Photography by Charlie Kinross.