The Magic Flute

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Opera A La Carte
Salisbury International Festival, Salisbury Playhouse
(2006)

Having spent most of last summer in hosptal, to find Mozart's jolly musical fairy story, The Magic Flute, transferred from its sombre masonic hall to a military hospital in India was, to say the least, a sobering experience.

Opera a la Carte were staging Nicholas Heath's imaginitave production at the Salisbury Playhouse for the city's annual International Arts Festival.

Yet while there are moments when the mischief appears a little strained, I have to confess that the joke works rather well.

Tamino, a soldier, is brought into hospital in a delerium having suffered a snakebite! From the depths of his coma, and ably sung by the extremely fit tenor Paul Badley, he pleads for help, whereuon - surprise, surprise - three neaty uniformed nurses spring into the ward to comfort him.

Barely have they departed with the customary reluctance, than Papageno, still evidently a bird-man appears at his window to claim the credit for his survival.

Smartly exploiting their medical setting, the three nurses, Angela Kazimierczuk, Siobhain Gibson and Frances Jellard, return to punish Papageno with an injection into his mouth which quite achieves Mozart's original intention.

The trio sing delightfully throughout the performance, not least when they double as the three genii, usually sung by boy trebles.

Inevitably, the Queen of the Night appears as Matron, though in the remarkably trim fom of the excellent young collaratura Rosaling Waters who, it is evident, is not singing this role for the first time. I have heard more than one experienced soloist struggle with the difficult runs in a way Miss Waters does not!

And already, we have been delighted by a resonant "O loveliness beyond compare" from Paul Badley and an excellent rendering of Papageno's entrance from the baritone Jochem Van Ast.

Further excelence is provided by the splendid bass Martin Robson whose accomplished performance of both Saratro's solos are warmly received by the enthusiastic audience..

The excellent company of soloists is completed by Michelle Sherdan (Pamina) and Emma Silversides (Papagena).

Musical direction is by Susie Allan, Accompanist of the Year and Gerald Moore prizewinner, who leads the accompaniment from the piano, aided by a woodwind quartet of flute, clarinets and basoon.

Costumes are by Catherine Hoare while the unacknowledged settings, including bed and screens, probably ower much to the local Community Health Service.

There have been many eccentric productions of great operas, some of them in ouf major houses in recent times, which have not come remotely near to the charm of this new look by Ala Carte. For anyone fortunate enough to find it billed at their theatre, it should be a must!

Kevin Catchpole