The Magic Flute – Milton Keynes Theatre

Reviewer: Simon Tavener

Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Libretto: Emanuel Schikaneder

Director: Daisy Evans

Conductor: Frederick Brown

Translation: Daisy Evans

The Magic Flute is the first opera many people attend as a teenager and so it has a very special place in the hearts of many operagoers. Welsh National Opera (WNO) is also a company very dear to UK audiences as their productions are normally of the highest possible quality. Sadly this version of The Magic Flute has to rank as the weakest production that this reviewer has ever encountered from WNO.

There is no criticism to be made of the cast, orchestra nor conductor. They all deliver the standards audiences have come to love from WNO. But the new translation, direction and overall artistic vision fall short of what WNO can and should be delivering.

In an attempt to make the piece feel more modern and accessible, Daisy Evans has freely adapted the libretto from the original German. This is a laudable aim but the new lyrics hamper the singers by not fitting the musical line as precisely as is necessary and the new dialogue is lacking in wit or real humour. Combined with the jarring reordering of some musical numbers, this is a very disjointed and unsatisfying new version of the opera.

The decision to inform the production with visuals from the world of computer games seems, at first sight, to be a solid foundation for the piece. However there is a lack of consistency in the approach that means that this reference is only clear to those made aware of it in advance. If you need to have attended a pre-show talk to grasp what the director and designer are aiming at, then the production has failed.

These artistic mis-steps extend to the costumes which lack a clarity of purpose or unity of vision, and a set that should feel seamless but is clunkily and too frequently rearranged by noisy and very visible stage crew.

Jake Wiltshire (lighting designer) delivers the most successful aesthetic part of the production. The spectacular lighting for the Queen of the Night’s famous Act Two aria delivers a series of images that will stay with this reviewer for a long time. There is also much to enjoy with the puppetry employed regularly through the performance. It is just a shame that the rest of the artistic elements are so poor.

Musically the production is on much firmer footings. Frederick Brown conducts the WNO orchestra with purpose and clarity. Orchestra detail is precise, as is the norm with this talented group of musicians, and the singers are well supported. The chorus singing is, as always, exemplary – the WNO Chorus is one of the strongest vocal ensembles working in the world today.

April Koyejo-Audiger is outstanding as Pamina. She is heart-breaking in her Act 2 aria and has a brightness of tone that makes one eager to hear her sing again in a wide range of repertoire. Neal Davies (Papageno) delivers what one has come to expect from this versatile and engaging singer – he is alert to the music and character, bringing much needed warmth and humour to the stage.

Special mention must also go to Claire Barnett-Jones who relishes every moment as Third Lady. She is an outstanding stage performer and one you should aim to catch whenever she is singing near you.

Innovation should absolutely be at the heart of all opera companies in order to keep audiences engaged. However The Magic Flute is a piece that needs to be well served by both cast and the creatives. Here WNO deliver on only half of that necessary combination.

It is a new version which fails to live up to the magic and mystery of the original and one that, as it stands, cannot be recommended.

Runs until: 21 April 2023 and on tour

The Reviews Hub Score

No Magic

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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