Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Director: Dominic Cooke
Conductor: Simon Phillippo
Reviewer: Emily Pearce
Dominic Cooke’s staging for Welsh National Opera of Mozart’s final operais now ten years old; this latest revival is part of the themed season A Terrible Innocence, of which new productions of Richard Ayres’ Peter Pan and Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande are also featured. On the whole, the surrealist staging and design have aged very well – the never-ending blue sky and doored staging seemingly taken from a Magritte painting. References to animals and nature work well with the Masonic theme and humour of the piece – the orange bowler-hatted men from the brotherhood striking the balance between menace and enlightenment well.
Simon Phillippo conducts with grace and attention to detail, the WNO orchestra playing with its usual panache and verve. Mozart’s score is, as always, beautiful, witty and moving, yet in spite of this, the performance takes a while to hit the right note (not literally, the singing is, in most parts, sublime). The dialogue is on occasion awkward, interrupting the singing in a pantomime-like manner. This propensity for slapstick also works to enhance the libretto’s more misogynic undertones. It is uncomfortable to watch the attempted rape of Pamina by Monostatos, when it is dealt with in an almost comic manner, and continual references to “women’s lies” in a world of honourable men are not received well.
The humour of the piece comes through better in Act 1, with Act 2 occasionally dragging in some of the more serious, sanctimonious parts. As Papageno, Daniel Grice is both witty and sweet, his rich voice giving the character depth – the scene where he plays his magic bells to trick Monostatos and his thugs away is a master class in comic timing. Benjamin Hulett is an honourable, yet humble Tamino – his bright tenor voice easing through the arias splendidly, and his counterpart, Elizabeth Watts as Pamina is well matched, gracefully and richly performed. Ach Ich Fühl’s, the extremely difficult aria in Act 2 is a highlight; Watts’ voice is at its most poignant and controlled. Samantha Hay is a secure and confident Queen of the Night, although this is not the most scene-stealing of performances, the production never makes clear the intention behind the hatred for Sarastro, leader of the brotherhood. Other casting is less effective, The Three Boys are most definitely mature women – which, despite being sung well by students from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, means that the wise innocence and purity of tone that is so effective in the opera, is lost.
The Magic Flute is a production well worth seeing for some of the most beautiful music ever written, well performed with a deft nod to surrealist art – so long as one’s tongue is planted firmly in one’s cheek.
Runs until 5th June 2015.