The Magic Flute (Festival Theatre, Edinburgh)
Following their hit Golem, 1927 return to Edinburgh with a "non-stop visual treat to accompany Mozart's strange fairytale"
Fans of 1927's The Animals and Children Took to the Streets and last year's Golem will be less than astonished to learn that directors Suzanne Andrade and Paul Barritt - together with Barrie Kosky, for the Komische Oper, Berlin - have devised a non-stop visual treat to accompany Mozart's strange fairytale.
I use "accompany" advisedly because, for me, this is a case of brilliantly inventive, but totally one-dimensional, interpretation. The dangerous adventure in the forest as Tamino seeks his beloved Pamina, and Papageno the bird-catcher dodges the curses of the Queen of the Night and the head of the Freemasons, is indeed a sort of dream.
So the idea is to do it as a silent movie, the dialogue replaced by ornate silent movie captions, Papageno played as Buster Keaton, Pamina as Louise Brooks, the henchman Monostatos as the vampiric Nosferatu, and so on. The Queen of the Night is Spider Woman in a corset of X-ray bones.
The whole thing is "shot" against a vertical screen, the singers' heads and upper bodies elaborated with animated limbs, stranded on flip-out ledges and doorways, while the cartoon cornucopia, sometimes integrated with their movement and expression, sometimes not, proceeds riotously around them.
Cats, monkeys, butterflies, screeching cats, a little naked fairy personifying the magic instrument, fluttering hearts, chattering lips and flying daggers: it's a contest of two large screen styles, fused in an idea of the Enlightenment activities of the scientific Freemasons led by the headmasterly Sarastro.
The music is a treat, of course, wonderfully played by the Komische Oper orchestra under Kristiina Poska, but indifferently sung by an international cast including the American soprano Maureen McKay as Pamina, BBC New Generation artist Allan Clayton (top singer for me) as Tamino and Russian diva Olga Pudova as an uncomfortable-looking Queen of the Night.
Mozart's piano fantasias, played on an 18th century forte-piano, are used to go with the captions replacing the dialogue, a much more interesting ploy than the cutesy (think Dumbo) pink elephants flying round Papageno's head when he sips a pink cocktail. There are many more vaudevillian ideas and cinematic cliches pressed into service in a production that certainly ticks "special occasion" boxes for an international festival but rather undersells the beauty and profundity of the opera. You can't be purist about The Magic Flute - it's a fairytale - but you may wonder why 1927 feel they need Mozart anyway to do their art school exercises and tricksy animations.
The Magic Flute is at the Festival Theatre until 30 August.