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The Magic Flute – Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Director: Sir Thomas Allen

Reviewer: Jonathan Goat


Mozart’s last opera, The Magic Flute, is by far his most bewildering and difficult work; one that offers huge interpretative challenges to any who approach it. It’s a conundrum-straddling masonic mystery and populist fairytale in an uneasy and unsatisfying way, and succeeds by being drawn together and made a thing of lasting greatness by what must be one of the greatest musical scores ever composed. Because of the incongruous nature of it’s narrative components it can lead many companies to produce a piece that is that is either ridiculously infantile or inappropriately mysterious. Almost all productions of it are in some way marred by their inability to reconcile the difficulties inherent in the work. Sir Thomas Allen’s latest production for Scottish Opera comes fairly close to an interpretation that does justice to the work’s various idiosyncratic elements, and most importantly, it gets the tunes sounding utterly magnificent. This is a highly recommended production which, though not perfect, is an excellent opportunity for experiencing The Magic Flute in a modern while historically sensitive light that captures all the comedy, tragedy and mystery which it’s creators envisaged.

Allen’s steam-punk interpretation manages to question many of the problematic elements that have necessarily arisen in a progressive work which has, with the passage of time, become to seem rather conservative, while never being overly cynical or interrogative with his source material. His format allows the mythic and fairytale elements to breathe without being ridiculed, and he is similarly careful to show the characters as real human beings. Laura Mitchell’s Pamina in particular was far more three dimensional than in most productions, where it all to easy to leave her as the mere object of a quest; in fact her ascension into Sarastro’s order is one of the work’s most important and progressive features.

The finest aspect of the whole evening, however, was the musical performance. The orchestra showed the clean, clear music of the Flute in all of its classical grandeur. The melodies sliced through the drama as the work’s star entertainment, as they should be, and on the whole the singing was exceptional. Mari Moriya’s ‘Queen of the Night’ aria did not yield to theshow stoppingelements of her arias alone and succeeded in creating a lyrical and heartfelt portrayal of her character that went beyond those famous vocal pyrotechnics. Ruth Jenkins’ performance of ‘Papagena’ was enough to live on in the heart as bright as any of the other singers despite her only really being on stage for that one comic number, and the Three Ladies all boasted stunning voices.Richard Burkard’sPapageno was the show’s true star, a fine vocal talent who handled a night of laughs despite a good number of very poorly considered jokes in an otherwise acceptable translation. Jonathan Best’s Sarastron had a beautiful stately tone but could not adequately muster up those low notes that are essential to characterisation and, against the impossible sounding coloratura of the Queen, the dichotomy of reason and madness, or community and isolationism, which lies at the heart of the work.

Runs until 24th of November

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