Die Zauberflöte – Singspiel in two acts to a libretto by Emanuel Schikaneder [sung in German with English surtitles]
Tamino – Rupert Charlesworth
Papageno – Johnny Herford
Queen of the Night – Ruth Jenkins
Pamina – Aoife Miskelly
Papagena – Nathalie Chalkley
Sarastro – Frederick Long
Monastatos – Samuel Furness
Speaker – Adam Marsden
Three women – Sarah Lian Owen, Rachel Kelly & Fiona Mackay
Three children – Katie Mazur, Lily Rafalin & William Campbell
Three slaves – Bradley Smith, Joseph Thompson & Dominic Kraemer
First armed man – Stuart Jackson
Second armed man – Nicholas Crawley
Royal Academy Chorus & Sinfonia
Stephen Barlow – Director
Yannis Thavoris – Designer
David Howe – Lighting designer
Victoria Newly – Choreographer
Reviewed by: Peter Reed
Reviewed: 12 March, 2012
Venue: Sir Jack Lyons Theatre, Royal Academy of Music, London
However far removed from the land of Isis and Osiris, most stagings of Magic Flute manage to retrieve some sense of morality and spiritual growth from Mozart’s heady mix of pantomime, conversation and opera seria. Barlow’s staging, though, sustains an exclusively high level of light-hearted, cynical send-up, with Tamino and Pamina’s trial involving their walking fully clothed into and out of a sauna (another, usually decidedly non-purifying, gift of the 1970s) and their being married into Sarastro’s cult, presented as far from benign or enlightened. It’s a gleeful concept, but its cynicism is so complete that all else is eclipsed. Still, Mozart proposes; Barlow disposes.
And Barlow’s view had at its disposal some of the consistently best singing I’ve heard from the RAM Opera Course. I wasn’t convinced that Rupert Charlesworth’s preppy, unworldly Tamino might have been predisposed to linger longer in the sauna of experience, but he looked personable enough and sang beautifully, a tenor with an attractive hint of baritone weight and a graceful higher register – he made his mark with a seraphic ‘Dies Bildnis’ and just got better.
His Pamina was Aoife Miskelly (a terrific Despina in RAM’s staging of Così fan tutte last year), a fine Mozart singer, whose presence hinted at areas of Flute denied by Barlow, and who sang a painfully luminous ‘Ich fuhl’. Johnny Herford’s show-stealing Papageno (cast as a paparazzo) was impressively sung and acted with a sharp sense of comedy. The first of Ruth Jenkins’s Queen of the Night arias sounded slightly cautious, but ‘Holle Rache’ was very fine, with crisply articulated, pin-point accurate coloratura and easy control of fluid decorations. The direction and design could have made her more of a malevolent presence, but she was in the right area of loopy hysteria. Her three ladies struck Charlie’s Angels-type poses to the manner born and were a great ensemble, as were the three boys, although the sight of them grooving half-heartedly to their Magic Flute ghetto-blaster during the Overture didn’t work. Frederick Long’s creepy, oleaginous Sarastro was a wonderful realisation; Monostatos was portrayed as a Village People reject by Samuel Furness as a (fully-clothed) hen-night-style New York cop and seductively sung. Nathalie Chalkley’s Papagena eventually turned out to be a siren in hot pants, delivering a sweet duet with Papageno. Adam Marsden’s Speaker was memorably camp.
The choruses were thoroughly well directed and sung with an almost baroque intensity. The RAM Sinfonia’s playing warmed up after a slightly scratchy Overture. The German dialogue flowed freely and idiomatically.