As the curtain rises on James Brining’s Magic Flute we see a small girl in yellow pyjamas placing an LP on her Dansette record player. Whilst the overture strikes up, her evening flashes before us and, as she prepares for bed, a swirling maelstrom is happening behind her – a row kicking off between presumably her mother and father, later to be transposed into The Queen of the Night and Sarastro. As the music draws to a close and her head hits the pillow, we are transported into her dream, seeing a new version, of sorts, play out again.
This is a dream world different to our own. When we first meet our hero Tamino, he is being rescued from what looks like a Peperami monster by nurses wielding lightsabres. We next see a many, dressed in feathers, coaxing birds down from trees with pan pipes having his mouth padlocked shut. But what raises this dreamy existence from these child’s play images is the beautiful score, played wonderfully by the Opera North Orchestra. There is a darkness in the dreamscape too, usually presented as a wise priest, here Sarastro is more a Svengali puppet master and his followers bearing an uncanny resemblance to Handmaids in Margret Atwood’s eponymous tale. Papagena’s transformation from crone to beauty is here changed also, she is now presented as a less adherent and kind-hearted nun, reminiscent of one of Austria’s other great musical exports The Sound of Music.
But, the music is the real star of any opera and most particularly here it is some of the less seen characters whose voices we want to hear more from. Samantha Hay is superb as The Queen of the Night and her aria in act 2 (Hell's vengeance boils in my heart) is note perfect – a difficult feat with the range stretching a full two octaves. John Savourin’s Sarastro is equally commanding in his Within these sacred halls, which follows swiftly after. Of all the cast, Gavan Ring stands out as an endearing Irish Papageno, particularly in his off-the-cuff shutting down of an unwanted heckler – Yes, I know! At the opera!!
Mozart’s most magical of opera’s is one which is light on really juicy story – the characters are very much at face value. Yet this works in the setting of a child-like dream and allows what is a fairly limp script (if anyone is coming to this for the script, it may be the wrong show for you) to get away without doing any of the usual heavy lifting. The set has over-faffy moments also, particularly in the second half when there is less music to cover its rearranging.
Opera North have again put a fresh spin on an aging classic and one which even in its original version has some serious hurdles. Its an enjoyable few hours beautifully sung and scored pantomime – even down to a man in his underpants – whilst also finding a new lens by which the audience can examine the stage action. Whilst perhaps not hitting the heights of the Carmen they toured a few years ago, this is a magical night, with bells on.
Opera North performed the Magic Flute at Nottingham's Theatre Royal on Tuesday 19 March 2019.
Opera North are performing the following productions until Saturday 23 March 2019:
Tuesday 19 Mar The Magic Flute 7.00pm
Thursday 21 Mar Katya Kabanova 7.30pm
Friday 22 Mar The Rite of Spring / Gianni Schicchi 7.30pm
Saturday 23 Mar The Magic Flute 7.00pm