Completed in the year of his death, Mozart’s last great work is a disparate mixture of the philosophical, romantic and downright farcical. It can prove something of a challenge to unite these characteristics in a coherent and meaningful manner. Nicholas Hytner’s production, supported by a strong cast, succeeds in achieving this.
The fairy tale-like plot draws from the enlightenment philosophies sweeping across 18th Century Europe. The humanist approach of Sarastro (Robert Lloyd) battles for wisdom and reason against the reactionary opposition of the Queen of Night. Mozart’s masonic sympathies are evident through Sarastro’s brotherhood and through the initiation trials undertaken by the young prince, Tamino (Shawn Mathey), in his search for acceptance and true love.
Pantomime-like relief is provided in the form of the evil Monostatos (Adrian Thompson) and the comic bird catcher, Papageno (Duncan Rock). Clad in a full-feathered bird costume, Rock plays his part to the full, clearly enjoying, and expanding upon, the slapstick and fickle elements to his role. His broad Australian accent, including a reference to women as ‘Sheilas’, somehow works with the strong Welsh intonations of Rhian Lois, playing the object of his affections, Papagena. Thompson is suitably nasty, drawing pantomime like boos from the audience at the finale.
Kathryn Lewek makes a dark entrance as the Queen of Night, executing her arias with finesse. Her attendants, a trio of glamorously clad women (Elizabeth Llewellyn, Catherine Young and Pamela Helen Stephen), make one of the best contributions, fawning, cougar-like, over the young Tamino.
The sets are impressive if somewhat plain, ranging from the sparse opening scene to the Egyptian-themed palaces of the brotherhood. Real doves and a giant floating bird’s nest add some entertainment.
Hytner’s production has made numerous appearances since its first staging in 1988, but sadly the English National Opera has announced that this run will be the last. It is worth catching before it retires for good.
The Magic Flute is showing at the Coliseum until 18 October 2012. Tickets are from £16.
By Rachel Phillips