Opera North’s The Magic Flute
March 19 2019
Theatre Royal, Nottingham
Review: William Ruff
An inventive, energetic, revelatory Magic Flute from Opera North
Opera North’s new production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute may be the one I’ve been searching for since I first heard the opera many years ago. The story really ought to be easier to follow than it is and each time I encounter it I try to crack it. After all, it’s about a Prince, a Princess and a Birdcatcher who are sent on a quest for knowledge, wisdom and enlightenment. And it’s about good versus evil. We all know that kind of story, so where’s the problem? Well, just when we think we’ve grasped who’s good and who’s bad, we have to rethink…and then again…and again…
So how does Director James Brining’s production help? During the Overture a little girl observes her well-heeled parents demonstrating very loudly and publicly just how dysfunctional their relationship is, The girl falls asleep and the opera is presented as a dream in which she is constantly on the periphery, the dream mirroring her confusion as to what to feel and think. It’s a risky idea but it made for an unexpectedly coherent vision of the opera.
This is a lavish production: large cast, handsomely costumed and with many striking visual effects. The flute itself is properly magical: point its golden glow at a wall and wondrous flowers appear amid festoons of musical notes. In fact, the digital projections all make a strong impact, as when the three ‘boys’ (two of whom are actually girls…) first appear riding on the back of a bird. And the later fire and water images are a feast for the eyes. The three Ladies will be hard to forget too: blood-stained nurses’ uniforms, wielding what looked like light sabres.
Vocally, the production is impressive, with fine, stylish singing from Kang Wang (Tamino), Samantha Hay (as a stratospheric Queen of the Night) and John Savournin (Sarastro). Gavan Ring’s Irish Papageno was a comic delight, including his banter with the audience. But this really is an ensemble piece and the quality of both acting and singing is high from both named roles and from the serried ranks of chorus and children who help to produce such impressive stage pictures.
Conductor George Jackson coaxes much lithe and springy playing from the orchestra, ensuring that what the audience hears is magically in tune with that they see in this inventive, energetic and frequently revelatory production.
Tamino Kang Wang
First Lady Lorna James
Second Lady Helen Evora
Third Lady Amy J Payne
Papaeno Gavan Ring
Queen of the Night Samantha Hay
Monostatos John Findon
Pamina Ellie Laugharne (Nottingham performances)
Sarastro John Savournin
Papagena Any Freston
Conductor George Jackson (Nottingham performances)
Director James Brining
Set and Costume Designer Colin Richmond
Lighting Designer Chris Davey
Video Designer Douglas O’Connell
Choreographer Tim Claydon