The first impression of this new production is one of smoke and mirrors. Chloe Lamford's stepped set has more doors than a French farce – and they open and close just as frantically. It's all in dark blue, indicating that the Queen of the Night has taken over more than her fair share of the world.
During the overture Liam Steel's production peoples the stage with a swathe of masked and somewhat sinister revellers, among whom Tamino appears as though caught up in a nightmare. If the Mozart/Schikander collaboration has always been seen as some sort of multi-layered allegory, then this staging reinforces that view. The witty translation is by Jeremy Sams, neatly balanced between the formal and the colloquial.
The three ladies, New Look-frocked and with a nice line in plausibility, are Cheryl Enever, Patricia Orr and Niamh Kelly. They make a strong trio with clear enunciation and well blended voices. Mark Wilde's Tamino is fervent enough, though he's not the most subtle of tenors. Laure Meloy has a marvellous entrance as the Queen of the Night, all sea-billowing blue silk, and she navigates her two show-stopping arias with rock-solid coloratura.
It is Paula Sides as Pamina, though, who steals the show. Petal-gowned until she joins Tamino for the ordeals, she produces a marvellous legato line both for her arias and in ensemble and her reactions to the misogyny of Sarastro and his priests (the translation does a good job with racism but is defeated by sexism) are perfectly calculated. Her mother's daughter, yes, but also her father's.
There's an element of the wild child about Daniel Grice's Papageno; you don't want to get too close up and friendly with this bird catcher. It's a well thought-out characterisation and equally well sung. The Act One "Bei Männern" duet with Pamino typifies a charming meeting between two people who react naturally with each other and yet inhabit completely different realms.
Dark-voiced enough to give full gravitas to "Oh Isis und Osiris", Andrew Slater's Sarastro is a majestic figure dominating his temple. Indeed, there is almost a hint of cult about these white-clad acolytes with their light rods and globes. No armour for Charne Rochford and Piotr Lempa as they intone "Wir wandeln durch des Tones", though the fire and water ordeals are well managed. This production offers three women as the boys – Anne-Marie Cullum, Heather Longman and Melanie Lang – who impart an other-worldliness with their intonation as well as somewhat bizarre costuming.
A neat cameo of Monostatos is delivered by Richard Friedhoff; neither Moor nor Negro in costume or makeup, he becomes a far more menacing and less ridiculous figure than is sometimes permitted. Paul McGrath conducts an orchestra which encompasses both the delicacy to support the vocal line and the power to underpin the great choruses.
Reviewed at the Arts Theatre, Cambridge.
- Anne Morley-Priestman