Die Zauberflöte, K620 – Singspiel in two acts to a libretto by Emanuel Schikaneder [sung in German, with English surtitles]
Sarastro – Jamie Woollard
Tamino – Michael Bell
Speaker – Dafydd Allen
First Teacher – Henry Wright
Second Teacher – Daniel Gray Bell
Queen of the Night – Clara Barbier Serrano
Pamina – Charlotte Bowder
First Woman – Sofie Lund-Tonnesen
Second Woman – Annabel Kennedy
Third Woman – Emma Roberts
First Junior Girl – Leah Redmond
Second Junior Girl – Denira Coleman
Third Junior Girl – Taryn Surratt
Papageno – Edward Jowle
Papagena – Sofia Kirwan-Baez
Monostatos – Dafydd Jones
First Boy – Sam Harris
Second Boy – Redmond Sanders
Royal College of Music Opera Chorus
Royal College of Music Opera Orchestra
Polly Graham – Director
Louise Bakker – Assistant director
Rosie Elnile & Hazel Low – Co-designers
Tim Mitchell – Lighting
Kate Flatt – Movement direction
Reviewed by: Alexander Campbell
Reviewed: 20 November, 2021
Venue: Britten Theatre, Royal College of Music, London
How wonderful to be back in the Britten Theatre and to see and hear some of the young talent being nurtured over these last few tricky years on the stage and in the pit. Mozart and Schikaneder’s singspiel is a great way to showcase many such artists as there are so many roles, and thus each performer has a moment in the spotlight. Added to this there is an interesting, humourful and occasionally provocative production concept as well, one that transfers the action from masonic lodges and fantasy realms to a secondary school populated by girls and boys embarking on their discovery of life, identity politics, love, and relationships, whilst receiving ‘wisdom’ from a set of rather conventional male teachers with more than a hint of misogyny about their attitudes. The Queen of the Night’s attendants become the stuff of vivid and exploratory fantasy dreams, no doubt driven by hormonal surges, with occasional nightmare-like episodes. That the cast were so credibly young is a great bonus to the realisation of the idea.
There are a few embellishments to the story in that Monostatos and Tamino are seen to be vying for the affections of Pamina from the start, both getting caught in the adult disagreements of Headmaster Sarastro and the parental manipulation of the Queen. Some good school gags were deployed such as the lines on the blackboard. Particularly fun are Papageno’s and Pamina’s from Monostatos rescue being ‘delivered’ by Pamina, Monostatos and two of his mates sharing an ill-timed spliff ‘in the playground’, and also Pagageno’s momentary Hamlet / Yorick allusion.
Set designs were clear and clever – deftly switching between the school reality and the dreamscapes and dominated by a Tree of Knowledge at the centre, a large sculptural egg, and a stage-well that doubles as a clever entry point, a grave, a waste area and so on. That the whole works so well with a barely-modified original German text was remarkable. The reduced orchestration is very effective – only occasionally is the high string sound a little wiry rather than fulsome; excellent and revelatory woodwind playing, notably from the on-stage flautist.
There is some marvellous singing (and speaking), too. Some outstanding given that some of the solo arias are fearsome and challenge experienced stage performers. Charlotte Bowder’s intense, questioning Pamina is a delight throughout. Her limpid voice, with its glorious middle register, is heard to advantage in her poised execution of ‘Ach ich fühl’s’ and she has a great stage presence. Strong on presence and pathos is Edward Jowle’s earnest, genial Papageno, which he sings well with a sappy baritone, superb diction and with great understanding of the fact that this character is the one who communicates most directly with the audience. His inflection of the text includes some very authentic southern-German-sounding vowels! Clara Barbier Serrano’s imposing and fearsome Queen is a triumph too – all that coloratura glinting menacingly. The Women were a rich-voiced and formidable trio – each nicely characterised and with more than a hint of ‘Valkyries-in-training’ about them. Their collective extempore vocalise in the first act quintet is smashing.
Jamie Woollard’s Sarastro is not the genial character of tradition, but a more disturbing force. His cavernous yet firm lower register memorable in ‘O Isis und Osiris’. Dafydd Allen’s speaker was a good presence, especially when his Speaker bore the brunt of his feminist charges’ fantasies. Michael Bell’s rather geeky Tamino is nicely sung, though he seemed to be plagued with a few congestion problems early in the evening which hampered his sense of line a little; his voice has a real firmness and sheen to it. Sofia Kirwan-Baez is a sparky and assured Papagena, and Dafydd Jones achieves the well-nigh impossible by making Monostatos likeable and understandable and not a pantomime villain – he sings his area very well indeed. Throw in some heroic-sounding boys (Mozart’s armed men), a trio of mellifluously voiced Junior girls (Mozart’s Knaben) and a well-balanced pair of teachers (Mozart’s priests) and you’ve got a great cast! With Michael Rosewell’s singer-friendly yet pacy interpretation it’s a delightful and fun evening. Bravi!
Further performance with this cast on 24th November and with alternative casting on 22nd and 26th November.