RAM Magic Flute

The Magic Flute (Die Zauberflöte) [Sung in an English translation by Andrew Porter]

Pamina – Jane Harrington
Tamino – Michael McBride
Papageno – Viktor Rud
Sarastro – Robert Winslade Anderson
Queen of the Night – Laura Parfitt
First Lady – Helena Dix
Second Lady – Maria Kontra
Third Lady – Ivana Dimitrijevic
First Boy – Fflur Wyn
Second Boy – Katherine Allen
Third Boy – Caryl Hughes
Speaker – Whitaker Mills
Priest – Charne Rochford
Monostatos – Nicholas Mulray
Papagena – Rebecca Bottone

Royal Academy Sinfonia
Sir Colin Davis

Director – John Copley
Set Designer – Colin Peters
Costume Designer – Prue Handley
Lighting Designer – Geraint Pughe
Assistant Director – Dominic Best

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 27 November, 2004
Venue: Sir Jack Lyons Theatre, Royal Academy of Music, London

A splendid showcase for Royal Academy Opera, this production of “The Magic Flute” bristles with energy and conviction, and a light touch that both entertains and enlightens. If the overall message of this opera/pantomime is that good conquers evil, then the final bars, conducted with joyous vitality by Colin Davis, conveys this with unforced resolution. If elsewhere, there was a feeling of there being one or two laughs too many, there was very little in John Copley’s direction that could be counted gratuitous or irksome, the minimal props used imaginatively and enhanced by atmospheric lighting that simply and effectively involves the audience in the work’s journey of darkness to light, true love triumphing after overcoming trials.

Following weeks, probably months of preparation, Royal Academy Opera’s production involves three performances, two casts, two conductors and two directors. This first cast moved and interacted with confidence. Certainly one rarely thought ‘student production’ and engaged, rather, with young professionals and future artists. Jane Harrington was an easeful, generous and heartfelt Pamina, and Michael McBride was a suitably mellifluous tenor for the princely role of Tamino (and his speeches had an attractive poetic quality). Viktor Rud, as bird-catcher Papageno, is a genuine comic turn, the likeable, sometimes-irritating sometimes-thoughtful character brought alive without too many tricks and with an identity that we can relate too: a simple concern to eat, drink and pursue love.

Rud, from the Ukraine, managed a mention of the political situation in his country (not the only bit of updating), and delivered his spoken words with an attractive accent and flowing delivery. That ‘Flute’ is given in English is understandable; as the Director of Opera, Anthony Legge, points out, there is copious dialogue and the work ranges from meaningful statement to knockabout comedy. There’s certainly a case for English dialogue. But maybe the musical settings should be sung in German, Emanuel Schikaneder’s libretto having determined Mozart’s phrases and note values; and also because the international students that the Royal Academy attracts will probably have ambitions to sing in opera houses that will use original languages. That said, Andrew Porter’s English translation is several leagues above those that are no more than ‘clever’ and trendy.

All in all, this first cast proved an excellent crew, Royal Academy Opera’s course shining through; certainly those in the leading roles here justified their casting. If there was occasionally a lack of gravitas in both the singing and acting, understandable really, this multi-layered stage-work has in Sir Colin Davis a conductor with all the humanity, wit and eloquence needed. He immediately focussed Mozart’s ambitions in a sonorous and keenly articulated account of the overture, one that had time to be expressed comprehensively. Very much in charge, Davis was always there for the singers with some graphic cues and benevolent encouragement. He conjured some assured, detailed playing from the orchestra in what was a very complete realisation of the score in terms of emotions if not always in dynamic variety; maybe a consequence of the theatre’s acoustic that otherwise is notably immediate and faithful, some dryness in the violins aside. Whenever Papageno’s music-box struck up, the sound from the celeste was especially beguiling; some fine woodwind playing, too.

Davis’s conducting, majestic and deeply committed (numerous vocalisations coming from the pit as ample confirmation of this) never seemed indulgent or marmoreal; indeed, there was an youthful vigour in his conducting that was totally at one with the young performers. Sir Colin’s ability to sustain the line of the most lyrical numbers at tempos slower than ‘historical’ and his conducting of the Priests’ music that opens Act Two proved sublime – a shame then that the noise of the curtain opening intrudes into the latter – and the way he nudged along the music that signals Papageno and Papagena getting ever closer was just about perfect.

An impressive evening then, one beyond itself in terms of noting future names and for Davis’s affecting conducting, and another feather in the cap of Royal Academy Opera. Davis and this cast perform again on Monday the 29th, and a mostly different cast, directed by Dominic Best and conducted by Anthony Legge, complete the run the following night. 7 o’clock start.

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