Opera productions are like people, some
becoming old before their time while others seem perennially fresh-faced and
full of vigour. ENO’s Cliff Richard is
surely Nicholas Hytner’s 1988 Magic Flute, now in its 25th
year and, we’re told, providing the final, final opportunity to enjoy its many
pleasures. Rest is certainly not part of
the regimen, as the show now on its 15th outing has been truly one
of the company’s tireless workhorses.
Making his house debut, conductor Nicholas
Collon delivers a lovingly-crafted and joyous account of Mozart’s miraculous
score, and a uniformly excellent cast ensure that no-one, whether wanting to
re-live earlier memories or coming to the show for the first time, will be
Two American imports are real
finds: Shawn Mathey an ardent and attractive Tamino and Kathryn Lewek, not the
biggest-voiced Queen of the Night you’ll ever hear but rock-steady as she floats
through the arduous pyrotechnics with ease.
Elena Xanthoudakis is pure loveliness as Pamina and there are characterful
portrayals of the Three Ladies from Elizabeth Llewellyn, Catherine Young and
Pamela Helen Stephen.
Duncan Rock lends further
refinement as a beautifully-sung Papageno, less knockabout clown than baritone
hunk bursting through the feathers, in a performance that suggests future
greatness as Mozart’s wicked Don (a role he’s already played to acclaim). Adrian Thompson tackles the indelicacies of
the role of Monostatos with gleeful malevolence and Robert Lloyd shows familiar
authority as Sarastro.
Hytner’s production, revived by
Ian Rutherford and James Bonas, does gloss over some of the more difficult
aspects of the staging, providing illustration rather than insight, but there’s
nothing to offend either the traditionalist or anyone seeking theatrical excitement. Once the music’s taken care of so ably,
there’s the question of the spoken sections, which always sorely test the
singers’ acting abilities. Hytner (or
his revival directors) doesn't shy away from the silliness of the work’s
pantomime origins and steers a rocky course between high art and low comedy. Full worth is given to the Australianness of
Rock’s Papageno (full of “mates” and “Sheilas”) and the Welshness of Rhian Lois‘s
Papagena but shies away (just) from jokes about topicalities such as the
economy or politicians' misdeeds.
Once these ten performances have
been put to bed on 13 October, word has it that a brand new production is in
the offing. The thought provokes mixed
feelings; with entertainment this good, why not flog it until the shine fades but,
with one of ENO’s most exciting recently-acquired directors rumoured to be at
the helm, it’s something to look forward to in future seasons.