A Magic Flute

After Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, freely adapted by Peter Brook, Frank Krawczyk and Marie-Hélène Estienne
C.I.C.T. / Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord
Barbican Theatre
(2011)

A Magic Flute production photo by BM Palazon

A Magic Flute is a quintessential Peter Brook creation. Its roots undoubtedly lie in the Mozart opera but this production is both so much more and less.

Rather than a fully-fledged opera, the 90 minutes are more of a musical play, since approximately half of the story is spoken in French with the remainder operatically sung in German.

The ten people taking a final bow consist of seven singers, two actors and a pianist (at this performance, co-adaptor Frank Krawczyk). The last of these is the sole musical accompaniment for this chamber opera.

The scenery is traditional Brook, nothing but highly adaptable bamboo sticks, which, with the help of the acting duo of William Nadylam and Abdou Ouologuem, can suddenly transform themselves into a prison or a magical flute.

Having stripped down the original, Brook has cast two young teams to share the six performances. They recreate the famous tale of love with an aura of Greek myth.

Everything here is simple, which is not what everyone wants from opera but then this is a Bouffes du Nord production, not La Scala or the Met and is priced for more modest pockets.

Amongst the singers, the best of the acting comes, as it should, from Thomas Dolié who is a particularly forlorn Papageno, the bird catcher. He is obliged to assist Adrian Strooper's Tamino in his dangerous quest for a bride, when all that the pauper really wants is his own little Papagena.

Tamino's eye is set on Pamina, who at the beginning is kidnapped by evil Sarastro, sung by the sizeable Luc Bertin-Hugault demonstrating a smooth bass-baritone.

Pamina is played by Jeanne Zaepffell, whose voice and looks are both attractive, although the former is not the strongest in a space that has been designed as a theatre rather than an opera house.

When it comes to singing, plaudits must go to the tiny Malia Bendi-Merad as Pamina's dark almost Goth mother, the Queen of the Night. When she starts her coloratura trilling, you know instantly that you are witnessing the evening's highlight.

This version could hardly be more of a contrast with Julie Taymor's Die Zauberflöte for the Met. Where the lady behind The Lion King and Spiderman - Turn Off the Dark excels in sometimes soulless spectacle, Brook believes that soul is almost all.

While all of the originally billed performances are sold out, an extra one has been slotted in at 2.30 on 26 April and still has space for anyone tempted to catch this rare London opportunity to see a Peter Brook opera production.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher