Opera Review: The Magic Flute @ Riverside Studios

production photo by Polly Hancock

Anyone who remembers the movie Amadeus will be familiar with Mozart’s debts, ill health, rivalry with Salieri and issues with the Masonic brotherhood which appeared to run Vienna like a Sachertorte-munching mafia and whilst it’s interesting that Kit Hesketh-Harvey’s new production enrobes Magic Flute with these trappings, he doesn’t really take them anywhere and the actual joy of the production is the spirited attack at the score by so many excellent singers.

Mozart’s original tale of a loveless bird-catcher and a gormless prince who conspire to rescue a princess neither of them has met, at the behest of a raging Queen at war with an equally raging temple priest is … well, close to bonkers and making the characters double the real people in Wolfgang’s personal fevered nightmare adds a layer of complication to a plot already too tangled for analysis, so it’s best to sit back and enjoy the vocal pyrotechnics.

And they are spectacular: casts rotate nightly to give the principal voices a rest but here each cleverly alternates with supporting roles so theoretically there are no ‘ensemble’ singers and everyone gets a crack at a lead two or three nights a week.  It works, so on press night for example, we enjoyed bel canto tenor Laurence Olsworth-Peter‘s finely-played Mozart/Tamino but could see how baritone Joe Morgan will be every bit as good in his turn.  These guys are versatile.

The women get the best breaks in this opera: Daisy Brown was a bright and engaging Pamina and Fleur de Bray made the Queen of the Night a mad pantomime dame somewhere between Marge Simpson in her high-stretched powdered wig and Ruby Wax.  Well, Ruby Wax with a coloratura that bounced off the walls in the climactic second act aria.

There are lots of pantomime references – even an ‘it’s behind you’ – and it’s all enjoyable stuff, especially the Three Ladies who act as manipulative mummers to set the scenes and turn niftily into the Three Boys at one of many laugh-out-loud moments.  Sung in English, the diction throughout is impressively precise, you’ll not miss a word.The outstanding performance, though, is James Harrison as Schikaneder and Papageno, often played as a northern-accented clod but Harrison managed to flesh him out with an endearing vulnerability, great comic timing and a rich and superbly controlled baritone.

Musical Director Stephen Hose leads the five-piece band, exactly the right quota to support but not overwhelm the singers, and they play the score with enormous affection.

Good fun.  Good singing.  Good tunes.  Purists may cavil, but Mozart himself had no time for musical purists and we loved it.

Merry Opera Company‘s The Magic Flute continues at Riverside Studios until 3 March 2013, Tuesday to Saturday at 7.30pm, Sunday at 5pm, Saturday also at 2.45pm then after a provincial tour can be seen at The Scoop, City Hall/Tower Bridge from 26 to 28 June.  Riverside tickets online here.

JohnnyFox received complimentary tickets, programme and hospitality from PR agency Trilby Production

 

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