The Magic Flute

W A Mozart
Regents Opera
Theatre Royal, Windsor

The Magic Flute, Regents Opera

Recently formed Regents Opera give Magic Flute a makeover to a colonial hospital in India. Well that’s what it states in the programme.

In reality this is a nice idea but one that is executed poorly; the only character director Nicholas Heath allowed to really enjoy the concept is Monastatos (comedy colonial boxers and Indian dancing galore) and therefore is the repeated highlight. Tamino wakes up in hospital, surrounded by three coquettish and feisty nurses who are rather too fond of their medical ‘weaponry’.

These three ladies (Joanna–Marie Skillet, Kate Symonds-Joy and Flora McIntosh) open the hammed-up first scene with such precision as a trio and a twinkle in their eyes that makes you believe you’re in for a great laugh. Unfortunately this panto approach to Magic Flute becomes slower and sloppier with each set change, and the jokes feel tired and deployed by the cast with an air of desperation.

There are three simple sets (no designer credited), the hospital dressed with white hospital screens, the doctor's office into which a desk is wheeled, and a slick turn around of the screens reveals ivy-clad backs which, coupled with a bench, create the park setting. Other than the Indian-infused archway on a backdrop, there is little to hint that we are anywhere but England. And, despite keeping it simple, each set change takes far too long, and they occur after every scene. Perhaps employing a set designer for the next show is advisable.

Magic Flute is accompanied by piano and wind quartet, led by MD Susie Allen on piano. This arrangement is piano dominant, with the quartet having little more the accompanying chords, often late through lack of a conductor. By large, the arias are taken at a very steady tempo, yet Stranders still manages to forgo any leeway for the singers to breathe.

The cast is made up of young but definitely up and coming opera talent with impressive accolades to their names. Unfortunately, to match the dying energy on stage, it feels like many of the singers are marking the work bar the three nurses. Pamina (Norah King) has a spine-tingling sotto voce, but never really contrasted this by using the other dynamic extreme. Anthony Flaun (Tamino) delivers witty, pacy recits but in contrast his arias seem laboured.

The musical highlight is Papageno and Papagena’s duet, which illicits the first real round of applause from the audience. Papegeno injects much-needed energy into all of his performance throughout, despite his decidedly ambiguous accent choice.

Regents Opera has been created as a sister company to the well-established Opera A La Carte, to focus on larger scale productions. Heath’s motto is providing "affordable opera at outstanding quality. Keeping innovation at the forefront of the Company, he refuses to modernize productions for the sake of it".

Unfortunately, Magic Flute seemed to fulfill none of those objectives. With only occasional moments of vocal excellence, this potential-ridden cast largely does not deliver outstanding quality due to a lack of dramatic and musical direction. This production does attempt to modernize, perhaps with the exception of Papageno’s costume which appeared an incongruent remnant of the 1791 Schikeneder première.

This Magic Flute cconcept was orignially performed by Opera A La Carte, with very positive reviews in 2006. It feels as if it has been rather flung together for the new company, using the old material without real direction to the revival, not allowing this originally innovative idea a chance.

Reviewer: Louise Lewis