Writer: Glyn Maxwell
Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Orchestrator: Alex Beetschen
Director: Valentina Ceschi
Musical Director: David Keefe
Designer: Emma Bailey
Reviewer: Ron Simpson
Posters and programme for OperaUpClose’s production rightly bill this as Mozart’s The Magic Flute in spite of the many reductions and changes. A performance that lasts only 1 hour 40 minutes of stage time and uses only six singers inevitably loses much of the text, but by cutting out the spoken dialogue and telling the story via recitative, ensemble and aria, a surprising amount of Mozart’s music remains – well performed, too, if not always conventionally so.
Of Emanuel Schikaneder there is not a word – equally rightly. His dialogue and libretto have been discarded, his characters changed totally: only the names remain, plus – dictated by the sort of songs they sing – some sort of a generalised ambience.
In Glyn Maxwell’s version, there are only six named characters. Tamino and Pamina are a young couple whose dreams take the story from a night-club and their ordinary flat into the world of the imagination. Papageno, especially, and Papagena become embroiled in their story, he a social media freak who photographs the audience on his mobile on first entry, she unaware of who he is until their mobile messages match up. The Queen of the Night is a night-club and the owner thereof and Sarastro, the character least convincingly given a double life, seems to be a homeless man.
Much of the music of the missing characters survives. Maxwell’s solution to the Monostatos problem is ingenious and it works, musically and dramatically, if not with total narrative clarity. In the Mozart/Schikaneder Singspiel he is a black man whose evil is, at least partly, defined by his blackness. The days of blacking up white tenors have gone, the social attitudes implied in the character are repellent, so why not cut the part? But he has great music and funny scenes! Maxwell makes him an alter ego for Tamino, for his selfish and aggressive moods, and the excellent Cliff Zammit Stevens (Tamino) sails through the two very different tenor roles without blinking.
Otherwise a Hen Party, snaking through the action from time to time, picks up on the music of the Three Ladies and the Three Boys, the voices of Susie Buckle, Felicity Buckland and Luci Briginshaw (or just the first two, when Briginshaw’s on Queen of the Night duty) blending beautifully. Maxwell and Valentina Ceschi even find room for the Bachian Chorale for the Armed Men.
Glyn Maxwell’s libretto proves far truer to the spirit and the progression of The Magic Flute than seems likely at the beginning – it’s also, at times, very funny. Equally significant is Alex Beetschen’s orchestration for piano, guitar, double bass/bass guitar and a woodwind player constantly on the move between flute, clarinet and whatever else. An exhilarating overture sets the tone for an outstanding evening’s work by David Keefe, Billy Marrows, Will Henderson and Fraiser Patterson.
Ceschi’s production has enormous energy and imagination and, if it’s confusing at times, when wasn’t The Magic Flute confusing? Emma Bailey’s set works perfectly, night-club neon (a sign above the band says, ‘Live Music’) and a tiny revolve, night-club one side, the rest of the world the other.
The cast of six young singers, double-cast and spared any complex characterisation, sing admirably and are totally involved in the production. Zammit Stevens’ heroic-voiced Tamino is outstanding, Buckle’s spirited and focussed Pamina rather acid-toned at times, but carrying the emotional weight of the production. Tom Stoddart’s engaging and vocally smooth Papageno shares possibly the most charming number of the evening with Buckland’s assured Papagena when Maxwell turns Ein Madchen oder Weibchen into a duet of knowing affection. Briginshaw has the vocal pyrotechnics, confidently in control of the two arias despite starting the second from the back of the stalls, and Julian Debreuil’s warm Sarastro lacks only the cavernous low notes.
Touring nationwide | Image: Contributed