A Magic Flute, C.I.C.T./Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord, at the Barbican, March 2011

Singing in German, speaking in French with the occasional bit of German or English thrown in, and surtitles in English that sometimes, but not always, kept the same pace as the performers — that was what was on offer and I was rather glad when it was over. The indefinite article says this isn’t the Mozart/Schikaneder opera, though it’s certainly based on it. Essentially this is a pared down version of Mozart, played on the piano, with singers who would not hold their own with an orchestra, and sometimes had difficulty filling the Barbican concert hall. Yes, the bamboo sticks are a clever production idea in this minimalist staging by Peter Brook, and the two non-singing performers, William Nadylam and Abdou Ouologuem had great stage presence. They themselves could have filled the ninety minutes, but as a musical performance this left much to be desired.

Abdou Ouologuem with the flute, photos by Pascal Victor/ArtComArt

Some people evidently enjoyed it immensely and when I asked a friend why he thought it was so good, he said the acting was wonderful, and much better than you get in the opera house. Was it? I go regularly to the opera, and I think the acting these days is often very good indeed. To take one case, the best actor in this production was arguably Virgile Frannais as Papageno, but I’ve seen Papagenos at the Royal Opera and the English National Opera who could knock his performance into a cocked hat.

The Queen of the Night should be a dramatically threatening role, but here she just seemed to be a widow who hates Sarastro because he wears the sun disc that her husband donated to the initiates. A lot of depth seemed to be missing, but perhaps this appeals to those who don’t much like opera? I don’t know, and I don’t quite know what the purpose is. If this were a student performance it would get high plaudits for an imaginative production with almost no props and no orchestra, but then it wouldn’t be playing at the Barbican.

As it is, I shall be going to University College London to see a student performance of Die drei Pintos, an opera by Weber, completed by Mahler, and I’m expecting something much better than this.

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