The Magic Flute is probably one of Mozart's best known and loved operas. It has quite a strange history; having started it, Mozart and his librettist Shikanedor completely changed direction. This can be seen quite clearly in the differences between acts I and II. Act I starts out as a conventional fairy tale with a prince – Tamino, played by Nicholas Humdall Smith – trying to rescue a princess – Pamin,a played by Caroline McPhee – with a little help from assorted fairies and spirits. Pamina's Mother (Mary-Jean O'Doherty) is The Queen of the Night and she wishes Tamino to rescue her daughter, who is being held at the Temple of Wisdom by Sarastro a great magician (Henry Grant Kerswell), who has been instructed to keep Pamina safe by her dying father.
On his way, Tamino meets up with Papageno – half man half bird – played by Matthew Sharp, who accompanies Tamino on his quest, hoping to find a mate for himself.
During the second act, the opera becomes more allegorical than fairy tale as Tamino seeks initiation into the temple brotherhood. After going through many trials, Tamino and Pamina are united in love and have the blessing of the gods. Papageno is also successful in his quest for a mate and is joined to Papagena (Natalie Montakhab) and so they all live happily ever after.
All the performers are wonderful with the many contrasting voices. The soloists all excel, and the duets and trios on the whole are well balanced and show a great musicality. Special mention must go to McPhee's performance as Pamina. Her solos were breathtaking and she manages to convey the many emotions required for this part.
The opera is directed by Richard Studer, who is also the designer. He shows a sure hand throughout the production and has added some lovely little touches to bring the whole thing to life. He brings out the drama and poignancy of the opera, but also the underlying humour.
Amanda Holden's translation of Shikaneder's libretto is lovely, also keeping the dramatic and poignant moments but adding a wonderful line of humour going through the opera. Sometimes translations from the original can lose some of the meaning and either be a little heavy or wander away from the story, but this one has been excellently done.
Playing in the round is always difficult for both performers and set designers, but this production has been masterfully done. The costumes are also well done – they have been kept fairly simple in most cases but work very effectively.
The orchestra, conducted by Jonathan Lyness, is outstanding. They are a very small orchestra comprising of 10 instrumentalists but due to the clever orchestration never at any point do you feel that you are lacking depth or numbers. Their playing gives Mozart's music the respect it deserves.
Altogether this is an outstanding evening's entertainment and if you are lucky enough to get a ticket to see this performance you won't be disappointed.
- Barbara Maxwell