Opera Review: The Magic Flute, Opera North, The Lowry
The excitement in the office at OperaWatch was palpable. After an away day in Lancaster, we were back on home turf with the return of Opera North at The Lowry. The Spring season always marks the beginning of our year when all the hours of training, all the days on a cold, wet practice pitch in the car park behind Northern Soul Towers really pays off. To accompany me on this joyous occasion was my sometime lunching buddy, the Brunette. Since giving up the drink, the Brunette’s natural grace and wit come to the fore, putting this correspondent’s outdated Fleet Street manners to shame.
The Magic Flute was Mozart’s last opera and premiered just three months before his death in 1791. The maestro took the baton and conducted the highly successful opening night and it’s been a hit ever since. This is a new production by Opera North and a handsome piece it was. The production opens with a young girl (Madeleine Barker) trying to sleep as her divorcing parents argue in an adjacent dinner party. As she drifts off to sleep, her dream is invaded by Prince Tamino (Kang Wang) being chased by a monster. Two giant fingers engulf the stage like a scene from War of the Worlds but as a paper mâché mechanism. It is slain with toy light sabres by the three ladies (Lorna James, Helen Évora and Amy J Payne) of the Queen of the Night (Samantha Hay). They are dressed as blood-stained flying nuns (see Sally Field), though for ladies of the night I had something quite different in mind.
It is a witty opening and introduces the fantasy and playfulness of Mozart’s narrative. The Queen of the Night appears and urges Tamino to rescue her abducted daughter, Pamina (Vuvu Mpofu) whose image he immediately falls in love with. He is joined by a lowly bird-catcher, Papageno (Gavan Ring) who too is looking for love in the shape of a Papagena, any Papagena. Together, they must quest into the sun realm of Sarasto (John Savournin, who struggled manfully throughout with a cold) to find their hearts’ desire. They are armed only with the titular magic flute and magic bells to defeat their enemies.
It is not quite clear who are the goodies or the baddies in this moral tale. The Queen of the Night is all Disney Snow White evil stepmother sexy. Plus, she has the two best known arias: O Zitte nicht and the incredibly difficult Der Hölle Rache. I held my breath as Samantha Hay went through her soprano-coloratura paces and clapped loudly as she finished her ‘hellish rage’. Sarasto’s crew, while basking in the realm of the Sun, were all a bit too #MeToo in their objectification of women. In the end, love won all. Tamino won his Pamina and Papageno got his Papagena (Amy Freston), an ex-nun with a touch of the black narcissus about her.
In fact, all the performers were outstanding. But I have a proviso. Mozart composed The Magic Flute as a ‘singspiel’, opera with dialogue as well as music. While the ‘sing’ was great, some of the ‘spiel’ was a bit wooden. As an Irishman (albeit, northern), I found Papageno’s Father Ted oirish shtick, including a ‘for feck’s sake’, tiresome; it was more The IT Crowd‘s Chris O’Dowd. While it obviously amused the audience, there is a saying from home: why are Irish jokes so simple? So, the English can understand them! Now that’s what I call an Irish backstop.
The music, costumes, and set design were all impressive, though the sets did move around a lot without apparent reason. The cinematic projections worked especially well. Overall, it was a hugely enjoyable night. The Brunette and I headed our separate ways with hearts warmed by magic flutes and magic bells.
By Robert Hamilton, Opera Correspondent
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