Conductor, Frederick Brown kicks the performance off to a flying start with a brisk and incisive reading of the Overture, which brings out all of the movement’s dramatic, dynamic contrast.
Director, Daisy Evans, stages the overture in order to create a new back story. This is a distraction and adds little; the backstory is easily explained in words during the body of the opera.
The new production is a high concept one, which reshapes the narrative and shifts the philosophical thrust of the original to focus on a day versus night dichotomy. Thus, the people of the day, under the rule of Sarastro, and the people of the night, under the rule of the Queen of the Night, fear and distrust one another and have little contact. All of this feels relevant to our modern-day tribalism.
The English text, also written by Evans, is not so much a translation, as a rewriting. This accommodates the new narrative and also enables the production to ditch the misogyny and racism which bedevil the original text. Evans’ new take is also very up to date in its witty use of modern vernacular. This brings the young characters to a fresh, new life.
Evans’ radical reconceptualization works because it is so well thought through and consistent with itself, and also because the cast commits to it so thoroughly.
This is a very well-acted show throughout. The two leads are particularly compelling. Thando Mjandana as Tamino convincingly plays the teenager tentatively growing into manhood. It is good to hear the role sung by a Jungen Helden Tenor. April Koyejo-Audiger gives a well realised vocal characterisation as Pamina, singing with a light, sweet tone in the first act, then gradually bringing the fullness of her rich and powerful voice to bear as she grows to emotional maturity.
Elsewhere the singing has some issues. Jonathan Lemalu as Sarastro has a strong bottom but is underpowered in the middle range. As Queen of the Night, Julia Sitkovetsky’s coloratura is somewhat over-heavy in her articulation during her first aria, but then flows effortlessly in the second. Neal Davis’ Papageno is full of life and well sung if, sometimes, a little off the musical beat.
Overall, the ensembles are tight, the chorus really delivers on their ‘big moments’, and the orchestra plays with suitable classical precision.
The rewritten ending has reconciliation as its main theme. The two worlds of day and night, each incomplete without each other are brought together and the world is made whole again: and Sarastro has been as much at fault as The Queen of the Night, in his blind antagonism. It falls to Papagena and Papageno to utter the final words of wisdom before the pantomime is brought to a close with a really rousing final chorus.
Tamino – Thando Mjandana * Queen of the Night – Julia Sitkovetsky * Papageno – Neal Davis * Pamina – April Koyejo-Audiger * Sarstro – Jonathan Lemalu * Three Ladies – Nazan Fikret, Kezia Bienek, Claire Bernett-Jones * Monostatos – Alun Rhys-Jenkins * Speaker – Chuma Sijeqa * Papagena – Jenny Stafford * Armed Men – Thomas Kinch & Laurence Cole * Young Ones – Sophie Williams, Carys Davies & Llinos Haf Jones * Puppets – Kim Scopes & Tom Stacy
Conductor – Frederick Brown * Director & Translation – Daisy Evans * Designer – Loren Elstein * Lighting – Jake Wiltshire