The Magic Flute
Music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, text by Emmanuel Schikaneder, English translation by Carol Ann Duffy
Theatre Royal, Newcastle, and touring
There was, for me, a haunting sense of familiarity about this production, which had me faintly puzzled right from the off and it wasn't until I read the programme on the way home that I realised why: this is the same production as I reviewed, also at the Theatre Royal, in 2003.
Actually, it's the same but different. There are some differences in the production team. Tim Supple remains the director, and also present are Jean Kalman (set and lighting) and Tom Pye (costumes), but Yuki Ellias takes charge of movement. And there are significant cast changes, too, with new faces as Tamino, Pamina, the Queen of the Night, Papageno, Papagena, Sarastro and Monstatos.
As far as the performances are concerned, Ed Lyon found more in Tamino than his predecessor Philippe Do. There was rather more passion here in the acting and hence more tension. As Pamina, Noriko Urata was less kittenish than her predecessor Thora Einarsdottir but was none the less totally convincing. Papageno, of course, is a gift to a baritone who can act and Roderick Williams took full advantage of the opportunity and endeared himself to the audience right from the start, with a nice line in talking to the audience.
The costumes of the Three Ladies (Camilla Roberts, Gweneth-Ann Jeffers and Karina Lucas) have changed totally: their power-dressing riding habits have been replaced by long, low-cut dresses which emphasise their sexuality but take away what I really liked about the 2003 version, the suggestion of menace. That said, they sing beautifully and there is a playfulness about them in their first scene which amuses.
In fact, there is a lightness about the whole piece which tends to take away something of the conflict between light and darkness and it is left to Penelope Randall-Davies as the Queen of the Night to carry the dark side. She is not helped by her costume, which looks like a negligée over a white slip. ("Queen of the nighties," my companion muttered to me!) This worked in 2003 because she was played as a kind of overblown Diano Dors figure and the sense of menace had been built up beforehand, but this time it just felt wrong because she was having to play against her costume rather than it supporting the character. No criticism here of Randall-Davies whose singing was superb, particularly in the aria in the second half.
Musically there is nothing to complain about: from the principals, through the always excellent Opera North Chorus, to the orchestra sensitively conducted by Martin Pickard, everything was as it should be. Nor were the performances in any way suspect: indeed the standard of acting was very high. However the conflict between Sarastro and the Queen of the Night felt underplayed, almost a little capricious, not the struggle between light and dark, between enlightenment and oppression, which lies at the heart of the work.
Reviewer: Peter Lathan