Dominic Cooke’s enjoyable show, directed for this revival by Caroline Chaney, places The Magic Flute in bright Magritte-inspired designs by Julian Crouch was presented afresh in Birmingham. At the end cast and orchestra applauded Simon Phillippo for his contribution to WNO over past years – he moves on to pastures new. His conducting was very assured, with numerous felicities emerging from the pit. This was not an over-solemn interpretation but an empathetic one with pace, wit and pathos. Tempos were on the fleet side, according well with this sunny, playful production.
Jeremy Sams’s witty translation helped keep us engaged and amused, and the dialogue, replete with groan-type gags, was inflected and pointed by all those who spoke it. Elizabeth Watts was a creamy-voiced yet feisty Pamina, well-partnered by Benjamin Hulett’s honey-toned Tamino. Daniel Grice’s Papageno was sprightly, personable and touching – the humour nicely drawn and the interplay with the other characters, and the audience, nicely balanced. The success of this opera depends on Papageno above all, and Grice certainly delivered. There was also an impressive trio of ladies – nicely individual and yet formidable as a team. Topping this was the powerful Queen of the Night of Kathryn Lewek. She certainly despatched the technical goods in the two famous fiendish arias – with a voice of power and force, and no doubt as to the character’s malign intentions – thrilling. Alas the rather rough and pedestrian singing of Scott Wilde was no match for this. He has the sonorous quality and low notes that Sarastro demands, but the decided beat to his singing and a lack of grace and legato was a disappointment – an off-night one hopes. Howard Kirk was a bit of a pantomime Monostatos, but delivered his short aria with superb diction. Ashley Holland was a grave Speaker.
The production wears well – Sarastro’s followers dressed in bright-orange frockcoats and bowler hats with matching umbrellas managed to retain some gravitas – though their rituals had a comic side to them. The Ladies and the Boys appear like maids and children from an Edwardian nursery. The simple box set with its blue-sky, white-cloud walls and array of wooden doors proves adaptable to the plot. Those who like Magic Flute with a strong element of vaudeville will not be disappointed.