Recovering from a royal visitor and with much fuss over the new production of Verdi’s Un balla in maschera, loyal opera goers (and I hope new audiences) were reintroduced to a WNO staging from 2005, Dominic Cooke’s version of Mozart’s The Magic Flute.
If this opera has done anything, it has made my mother love opera again (she joined me as a plus one after years of non attendance). This is the power of The Magic Flute, a crowd pleaser for over 200 years and rightly so. The tones and tunes of jolly humour, dark mindsets, noble deeds and unwavering love are what makes the opera so glorious in its execution, the witty libretto by Schikaneder proving this. Even the dress run had children enraptured, making it a very easy piece for them to absorb, even with some scary bits and adult material in the second act. Put simply, the charms of Flute knows no bounds.
Every time this production is revised, it appears to get better and better. All the surrealist icons of Dalí and Magritte here work very well, as shrinking doors, clouds and all sort of bizarre creatures venture forth in a production which gets laughs and finally respect from this critic. It is also a very high set, so we get a much better view than usually, with no obstructions from blocking heads in front. This small yet effective set, helps emulate the dream like feel of the story and the aesthetic behind this odd artist movement. Through this, a type of humour comes through that melds with the original jokes and puns in a humorous way that are seen throughout. A highlight is the opening, after the overture where a great beasts follows Tamino. The effects are brilliant and have to be seen in person.
Singing wise, it is the valiant ensemble effort from all involved that sticks. Ben Johnson as Tamino, Anita Watson as Pamina and Howard Kirk as Monostatos are all equally brilliant in their delivery and act well in the spoken sections. The Magic Flute is usually defined by whomever plays the bird catcher, Papageno, and The Queen of the Night. Here, Mark Stone has the right amount of whimsy and playful theatricality as the former. His arias and duets with Pamina and his sought after love Papagena (here a Northern accented Claire Hampton, brimming with joy) are the most delightful things you might ever hear at the opera.
Our Queen is Anna Siminska, making her demanding duo arias a breeze. The high Fs heard within are what makes them the most famous parts of the entire work, with a forceful energy and intimidating, yet lavish presence. The orange clad chorus are equally opulent whether placed within the floor, or meandering through the labyrinth of doors. The Three Boys, who at one point are suspended in the air on a fish bike (naturally) have naive and clear voices, though a bit more practice would help in the delivery.
This revival almost missed the mark at the climax with no trap door magic for the Queen to sink into a la Wizard of Oz (she ran out a door in what should really be a death scene) and the use of falling petals in the finale was so pitifully scarce, I don’t see why the chorus bothered to open up their orange umbrellas. These few things in the long run were noted, but don’t really matter.
Utterly charming & eternally musical.
The Magic Flute continues at the WMC, then on tour. Also performed this season is Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera and Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux.
Photo Credit: The Reviews Hub