Mozart’s 18th century opera, The Magic Flute, is sometimes described as the composer’s only pantomime: the characters are larger than life and the action stranger than fiction. Challenged to endure silent quests and mysterious trials to save his love Pamina (Katherine Wood), Prince Tamino (Richard Pinkstone) and his plucky sidekick Papageno (George Smith) must overcome those obstacles with their Magic Flute and magic bells. Enlisted by Pamina’s mother, the Queen of the Night (Sophia Allen), the pair seem to gloss over her ominous and sinister name and trust her commands to topple the ‘evil dictator’ Sarastro (Angus Bower-Brown). Staged at the Grand Opera House, Unknown reviews this legendary opera performed by the UoY OperaSoc.
The stage was designed as if a toy box had been emptied onto the set of a BBC children’s programme from the 1980s
Cue an abundance of cloaks, suicidal spurned lovers, delightful music, powerful vocals and even bubble machines; this fantastical and spontaneous plotline was one the production at times seemed to struggle with. When the second act introduced a mysterious religious-cult-style brotherhood, alongside Prince Tamino’s and Papageno’s silent trials, these seemed to lack explanation and generated considerable confusion. Nonetheless, the concept for this production, in keeping with the action of the piece, was quirky yet creative. The stage was designed as if a toy box had been emptied onto the set of a BBC children’s programme from the 1980s. This was not at all detrimental; rather, the set became as much a playground as it looked. The threatening serpent which opens the opera was an agile string of painted lanterns dancing on wires high above the set, in a move convincingly hazardous yet aesthetically inspiring. Another insightful use of the space came in the form of a mobile mirror type panel, which raised to reveal the Queen of the Night and lay for the remainder of the show on the floor, reflecting stunning dancing patterns onto the stage’s backdrop. As sod’s law dictates for a single night run, however, this ambitious set occasionally proved troublesome for the production. It was clear at times, with such a jumble of large set pieces working to create this scattered toy-box effect, that transitions were claustrophobic. One particular incident with a wheel-on train would have been embarrassingly awkward had members of the ensemble not covered the technical issues with some focussed and convincing improvisation.
At the heart of this demanding production was a cast of genuinely talented vocalists, with commendation due not only to the striking primaries but also to an invaluable supporting ensemble. The sheer vocal prowess of the cast was fully shown as they rose to what is a challenging range with comfort. The Magic Flute is home to that aria and hearing Sophia Allen confidently navigate the coloratura soprano range amongst the dropping jaws of the audience gave this scene an electric atmosphere; her performance of Der Hölle Rache (Here In My Heart) was as scintillating as ever. The performance from the orchestra was flawlessly delivered; however it was restricted by the low numbers of instrumentalists when it came to some visually powerful scenes.
The opera’s three boys became here three children controlled by puppeteering singers and the three ladies demented dolls, in a wonderful touch of the production’s overall toy-box concept
The ensemble of this opera also brought some of the show’s cleanest and sharpest vocal pieces. The three ladies and three boys in particular where stylised with an artful contrast; the former were a boisterous and rambunctious stage presence whilst the latter were controlled and eerily synchronised. The opera’s three boys became here three children controlled by puppeteering singers and the three ladies demented dolls, in a wonderful touch of the production’s overall toy-box concept. A mop-haired and wolfish Monostatos (Alex Davison) against the red cloaked Pamina felt like more than a subtle nod to those infamous ‘Into The Woods’ predatory scenes, giving the production a more contemporary fairy tale dimension. George Smith’s Pagageno served the production’s comedy as a perfectly pitched cockney, nimbly flitting between an intimate and subtly staged duet with Pamina to an explosively funny one with his tailor-made maid, Papagena (Martha Pothen).
A range of accomplished performances from the company shone through to give this opera its vivid characterisation whilst the creativity and skill of the production’s designers and orchestra really illuminated Mozart’s music. Whereas occasionally the staging and storytelling could have been cleaner, the conception, vocals and characterisation of this production were a finely tuned and laudable triumph.