The Magic Flute, Welsh National Opera, WNO, Cardiff, February 2015Posted on 16 February 2015
The remarkable freshness of Dominic Cooke’s 2005 production is superbly complemented by Lothar Koenigs’ conducting. He invested the overture with tremendous dramatic energy and as the opera developed fully brought out its theatrical side.
Theatrical it is indeed, its librettist Schikaneder having created it for his own suburban vaudeville theatre rather than an opera house, and I prefer to hear it in English as it is here. Jeremy Sams’s engaging translation gives a good balance between spoken and singing text, and the appealing staging makes fine use of surrealist images such as the giant lobster that threatens Tamino at the start, and the later disembodied heads for members of the brotherhood. These lend an air of otherworldliness to the mystery of enlightenment that sweeps aside dark forces represented by the Queen of the Night, the Masonic symbolism of the number three being emphasised by the three doors in each of three walls of the main set.
In the original 1791 production of Mozart’s opera, Schikaneder himself played the role of Papageno, brilliantly sung and spoken here by Jacques Imbrailo whose appealing air of innocence reminded me of his superb Billy Budd at Glyndebourne in 2013. His princely and sophisticated companion Tamino was strongly and engagingly sung by Allan Clayton, with the lovely Sophie Bevan as Pamina showing glorious lyrical power, strikingly so on her first encounter with Tamino.
This was altogether a strong cast. Samantha Hay was a gorgeous Queen of the Night with lovely coloratura, her three ladies (Camilla Roberts, Máire Flavin, Emma Carrington) equally attractive in tone, lifting their skirts to entice Tamino into breaking his vows and losing Pamina. This production succeeds in never overdoing the evil of Night, and Howard Kirk’s well-sung Monostatos is not the demon of some productions, just a simple fellow trying his luck. Not for him the path to enlightenment laid out by the commanding voice of bass Scott Wilde as Sarastro.
The orange suits, shoes and bowler hats of his acolytes deliver a Magritte-like surrealism emphasised by the background of clouds in a blue sky. Cultish perhaps, but none the worse for that, and I loved the quadraphonic sound effect for the entrance of the Queen. A stylish staging — with a well-chosen cast — now seeing its third revival.
Performances at the Millennium Centre continue on February 20, 26, 28, after which it will tour to: Birmingham Hippodrome 5–6 Mar; Venue Cymru, Llandudno 12–13 Mar; Milton Keynes Theatre 19–20 Mar; Mayflower Theatre, Southampton 26–27 Mar; Theatre Royal, Plymouth 1–2 Apr; Bristol Hippodrome 9–10 Apr — for details click here.