Sunday, 22 March 2015

Magritte’s Magic Flute in Milton Keynes (WNO Flute)

‘The Magic Flute’ (WNO, cond. Lothar Koenigs, Milton Keynes Theatre, on tour).
The current Welsh National Opera Magic Flute is revival of their 2005 production.  It takes the same Jeremy Sams translation which ETO used last year, to much better effect.  The stage opened to blue skies and white clouds (augmented at times by cloud-like shadows) and a series of wooden doors. The traditional snake (which always has to look silly) was replaced with a giant pink lobster, with claws and head coming through three doors. This was, however, a one-trick pony. The prospect of a series of vignettes was thrilling; but this was only one picture at an exhibition, and the shoddily-made set (reminiscent of Crossroads clips with wobbling walls) didn’t make things seem slick. The second act needed something different, but as a series of holes were used repeatedly on the bottom of the stage, and this was clearly where the money went. The lighting (Chris Davey) was generally inexplicable, and if there was a point to it, I missed it. The bright set made a nice change to a gloomy Hollander and a gloomy Donna del lago which have been on my operatic menu recently. The legions of orange costumes for Sarastro’s servants-  with matching bowler hats, umbrellas, shoes, etc – all in identical tones were a triumph for the wardrobe department.
Image: WNO.
The production did not strange the story and the opera. From the pit came a very solid interpretation of the score at the hands of Lothar Koenigs. There was nothing to take offence at, and perhaps paired with a weird and wonderful interpretation, best not to meddle. The singing was all spot on. The Queen of the Night (Samantha Hay) delivered the firepower and hit the notes –and once warmed up was frankly superb; Pamina’s performance (Anita Watson) was tender and brought a human touch to an opera which always risks a kind of coldness amongst cult, trials, magic and the harsh rule of law. The male voices were very strong too, and Tamino (Benjamin Hulett) sang beautifully. It will be a delight to hear him in Saul at Glyndebourne in the summer.
Movement was greatly constrained falsely by the set which narrowed to a picture frame and made it small in three dimensions. The cast seems to change quite a bit as the produciton moves around, and perhaps this made it all sound a feel quite fresh.

In the second half especially, the dialogue seemed to drag; this might have been a product of the fact the staging had become quite tired. The trials at the end were laughable. The orange lights, sheets of white cloth and fans producing a flame, through the holes in the stage, not all of which work screamed “out of ideas”. But not loudly enough to drown out an opera company in fine voice.

Overall: good singing, fine music; Magritte very witty but that which opened up Mozart's other world in first act constrained it in second.

On tour until 10th April, details on WNO site. Including trailer.

Conductor Lothar Koenigs

Tamino Benjamin Hulett
Pamina Anita Watson
Papageno Jacques Imbrailo
Sarastro Scott Wilde
Speaker Ashley Holland
Queen of the Night Samantha Hay
First Lady Camilla Roberts
Second Lady Máire Flavin
Third Lady Emma Carrington

Director Dominic Cooke
Set Designer Julian Crouch
Costume Designer Kevin Pollard
Lighting Designer Chris Davey
Movement Director Sue Lefton

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