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ENO in co-production with De Nederlandse

Opera


The Magic Flute

 

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Photo courtesy of Richard H Smith


A Singspiel in two Acts


By Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart


Text by Emanuel Schikaneder


English version by Jeremy Sams


Original Director – Nicholas Hytner, Revival Directed by Ian

Rutherford


Conductor – Erik Neilson


Designer – Bob Crowley


Original Lighting – Nick Chelton, Revived by Guy Aldridge


London Coliseum

24 Jan - 26 feb 09

 

 

 

THE IMPOSTERSary Couzens

A review by Mary Couzens for EXTRA! EXTRA!

 

As Lesley Sharpe, author of ‘Quest for Enlightenment’ in this production’s informative programme points out: ‘The quest for wisdom, the ideal union of prince and princess, the journey from darkness to light, the guidance of the wise mentor’, in addition to being timeless mainstays of countless myths and fairytales, would have been as familiar to Mozart and Schikaneder in the eighteenth century as they are to contemporary audiences today. All of these reoccurring themes are, of course, lavishly expounded upon in The Magic Flute, Mozart’s final opera, which made its premiere in Vienna on September 30, 1791.


The opera’s overture begins lightly, quickly accelerating into the swiftly fleeting pace that is so much the hallmark of many of Mozart’s most famous works. Under the passionate conducting of Erik Nielson, the orchestra soars, elevating and escalating the music’s power further still.  Against this quickening musical background, a young man struggles and is overcome by a snake that is entwined around him. A projection of the scene on the top left side of the stage emphasises the urgency of his dilemma. He falls and is silent, however, all is not lost, for the three handmaidens of the Queen of Night, (sweetly singing and harmonising Kate Valentine, Susanna Tudor-Thomas and Deborah Davison) upon finding the fallen man gleefully agree: ‘If I was free to love and kiss, I’d choose a youth who looked like this.’ As the three blue gowned and haired women argue over which one of them will guard their prize while the other two go to inform their Queen, the opera’s sense of comic irony emerges.


With his beaming smile, comical body language and warm, rich voice, Roderick Williams who reprises the role he originated in this production here in London, makes as fine a Papageno, countrified servant and accomplice to Prince Tamino as one could wish for. As if to foreshadow his scene-stealing truimphs to come, impromptu moments of humour occurred when two of the four doves trained to answer the toot of Papageno’s panpipes by flying from the wings to their onstage perch decided to go on walkabout instead of returning to their basket. Fortunately, their trainer, convincingly dressed in 18th century attire, quickly arrived to restore order, and the birds were carried offstage in their basket amid laughter and applause from the audience, while Williams beamed at them, still in character. The all important fourth wall of drama would be breached by the irreverent Papageno many times during the course of the opera, always, to great effect, despite the fact that Williams’ speech sometimes included slang more relevant to our own era than that of Mozart. This happy onstage accident had, however, set the tone for the comic opera quite handily, in that one of Papageno’s major roles seems to be to offset the courtly manners of prince Tamino, who simultaneously searches for his true love, princess Pamina, spirituality in the form of initiation into an Egyptian temple, (possibly, a reference to the Freemasons Mozart and his librettist Schikaneder were both members of), and, the guidance of its deep voiced High Priest, Sarastro.

 

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Photo courtesy of Richard H Smith


However, all of Tamino’s plans could come to naught were they to be aligned with the secretive wishes of Pamina’s black gowned, Bride of Frankenstein haired mother, the Queen of Night. However, it was the Queen’s three ladies who rescued Tamino from the venomous snake that tormented him at the beginning of the opera and it was also they who cause him to fall in love with Pamina by showing him a miniature of her fair face. But the number three plays its own role in the opera, with Three Boys (Charlie Manton, Louis Watkins and Harry Manton) with lilting choir boy voices appearing to offer encouragement to Tamino and Papageno along their journey, and the three trials facing them, (and Pamina as well, in a then unprecedented feminist angle), once the two travellers have arrived at the temple, Tamino with his magic flute for protection, and Papageno, magic bells, both bestowed by the Three Boys.


The singing in this production is consistently fine, with Robert Murray, as Tamino nobly hitting notes of seriousness or rapture in all the right places. As played by Murray, Tamino comes across as a sort of Buster Crabbe serial hero, a notion which makes it all the more endearing once it is revealed that he would be nothing without the inspiration and encouragement of his heroine, Pamina.  Robert Lloyd is as fatherly and wise as his character suggests in his role as high priest, Sarastro, his deep bass voice enhancing the power and resonance of his performance. As Pamina, Sarah Jane Davies may physically put one in mind of WWII Hollywood big screen songbirds and/or actresses such as Rosemary Clooney or June Alison, however, her sublime voice offers poignant moments emitting great airs of sadness as well as more frequently, light-hearted ones, both of which delight. From the transcendent look Davies assumed while she was unleashing her captivating voice, it was obvious that she is a true operatic star. That said, Emily Hindricks quite literally offers some of the production’s high notes during her vengeful scene opposite Ms. Davies in which she warbles one of Mozart’s most famous pieces, as she commands her daughter, Pamina to murder Sarastro or risk incurring her never-ending wrath.  However, despite being 18th century inventions, Mozart’s female characters, such as Pamina, are generally deemed none the less ladylike for their quick assessment and command of situations that many of his seemingly heroic male characters tend to hesitate over.

 

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Photo courtesy of Richard H Smith

The amazingly silent, shifting sets designed by Bob Crowley place the performers inside and out of a structurally incredible temple, with all of the attendant details such as hieroglyphics on marbleised and/or golden walls as well as cleverly suggesting a forest and other outdoor scenery by way of a lone tree or branches.  In one scene, a notable tinge of realism was evidenced by a lone branch seemingly growing out of a wall. The costumes too are impeccably convincing, as much for their variety as their detail. Nick Chellton’s lighting, revived here by Guy Aldridge, contributes much to these illusions by intimating fire and further enhancing the sense of awe, majesty and peace inspired by the great temple, as well as highlighting more happy go lucky scenes such as those centring on Papageno and his partner Papagena (cheerily played by Amanda Forbes) in their air-borne nest, like two love birds.


Speaking of Papageno, when the cast took their many bows, it was somehow, comforting that even in these uncertain times, it was still that bumbling, reluctant character who consistently hankers after the simplistic heart’s desires of love, marriage and offspring who garnered the most applause.

 

 

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Photo courtesy of Richard H Smith

 

 

Photo courtesy of Richard H Smith

 

 

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