Music: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Libretto: Emanuel Schikaneder
Director: James Brining
Reviewer: Dawn Smallwood
This popular two-act opera makes a return after ten years, albeit a new production where James Brining, Leeds Playhouse’s artistic director, makes his opera directing debut. The Magic Flute premiered in 1791, set to Emanuel Schikaneder’s libretto – loosely linked to fairy stories written at the time. Unlike a lot of operas, this opera is formed with sung, as well as spoken dialogue, and this works very well with the narrative.
The opera is about Tamino (Kang Wang) who has been requested by Queen of the Night (Samantha Hay) to find and rescue her daughter, Pamina (Vuvu Mpofu). Pamina was stolen by Sarastro (John Savournin), a high priest and the Queen’s enemy, and is in capacity. Seeing her daughter via a picture, Tamino is smitten and in love with her and joins Papageno (Gavan Ring), the Queen’s bird catcher, on a mission to rescue her. Tamino is drawn to Sarastro’s community and their beliefs and he goes through a number of initiations in order to be accepted and reunited with Pamina. Eventually, Tamino and Pamina pass the trials, under the protective spell of the flute and their love, and are eventually accepted as members. However, Papageno isn’t accepted as he yearns for the earthly things, and leaves. The Queen isn’t happy with this, so she challenges Sarastro, but only for their dark presence to be overpowered with the sun’s power. In the end, there is a communal celebration of life and the representation of humanity, reasoning, and wisdom.
Mozart is renowned for his musical ingenuity, and it’s evident how diverse his composition and tempo are in this opera. A wide range of musical instruments are used, under the baton of Robert Howarth, which enables the audience to think ahead of the plot and assess characters’ personalities in the opera.
The opera was premiered at the time of The Enlightenment, a movement basing on reason and experiment. The intellectual and philosophical movement had challenged existing beliefs, particularly with then existing authorities and the church and thus began a contrast of beliefs and attitudes. The opera must have been influenced by this movement and is reflected in both the Queen of the Night’s obscure realm and Sarastro’s enlightening community. Colin Richmond’s stunning staging and breathtaking visuals capture such contrasts, aided with Chris Davey’s dark and bright colourful lighting. In the final stages of the opera, celebrations abound in a colour rush of sun and daylight, indicating the new era courtesy of Douglas O’Connell.
The company of Opera North put on an outstanding performance, supported by the Chorus of Opera North as the ensemble. The characters are led by Wang, Mpofu, Hay and Savournin and most memorable performance must be Ring’s charasamatic Papageno – particularly his engagement with the audience and role maximisation with comedic and modern touches.
The Magic Flute appeals to all. It can be adapted for young audiences with a premise of a fairy tale or a deeper dark story. The opera is certainly appealing to the eye and ear, however, this production successfully dwelves in the relevant themes which are just as applicable today than when it was first written. It celebrates the human spirit and how adaptable and possible one can be the best they can be amid a contrast of cultures, circumstances and attitudes. It is definitely an opera of contrasts.
Reviewed on 19th January 2019 | Image: Contributed