DramaOperaReviewSouth West

The Magic Flute – Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff

Music: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Libretto: Emanuel Schikaneder

English translation: Jeremy Sams

Director Dominic Cooke

Reviewer: Barbara Michaels

Mozart’s sardonic fairy-tale The Magic Flute, with its contending forces of good and evil, has more than a hint of the pantomimic, but is none the worse for that, consisting as it does of some of the composer’s most memorable arias and lyrical duets. This opera has it all – romance, comedy and mysticism.

The connecting link which runs throughout is the quest of Tamino, a Prince who sets out to find and rescue Pamina, daughter of the Queen of the Night. Pamina has been kidnapped by the villainous Monostatos by order of Sarastro, head of a mystic cult. Tamino is helped by the magic flute and Papageno, the bird catcher who lives in a hut in the woods and whose idea of heaven is hearth and home with the girl of his dreams. The story, with its mix of wonderful music, soaring arias, lovers’ tiffs and misunderstandings, set against a background of birdsong and mysticism, also manages to reference the fight between good and evil, the power of womanhood and a send-up of Masonic ritual.

Mozart’s light-hearted touch is well to the fore from the opening bars of the overture, with the orchestra of the Welsh National Opera under the baton of Damian Iorio in fine fettle. Gareth Brynmor John is a quirky Papageno who never misses a trick, while Ben Johnson brings a strong and melodic tenor to the role of Tamino, with clear pronunciation in the spoken dialogue. The Magic Flute could, however, be said to be a showcase for the soprano roles. Here, both Pamina, sung here by Anita Watson, musically a joy in both her solo arias and duets with Johnson, and – most particularly – the Queen of the Night, excel. The WNO is fortunate indeed to have secured the Polish soprano Anna Siminska for this demanding role, with its incredibly high range which even the most accomplished of sopranos can struggle to reach. Siminska has sung the role with numerous prestigious companies around the world and, once again, does not disappoint.

The distaff side includes the Queen of the Night’s three maids, sung respectively by Jennifer Davis, Kezia Bienek and Emma Carrington; all three give performances of a high standard throughout, while James Platt is a commanding if at times nasal Sarastro, with Howard Kirk as his sinister sidekick Monostatos. As always, the chorus of the WNO rise to the occasion in a variety of costumes, even managing to doff their bowler hats when rising from holes that open up on the floor of the stage.

A minimal set – as is the fashion these days – with opening doors hinting but not showing what lies behind, forms the background for a most enjoyable performance of this well-known and popular opera, the current staging being a revival of WNO’s 2005 production.

Reviewed on 17th February 2019 | Image: Contributed

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