Opera + Classical Music Reviews

The Magic Flute: Glyndebourne on Tour @ Theatre Royal, Plymouth

3 December 2008

Combining deeply philosophical and spiritual undertones with theatre reminiscent of pantomime, The Magic Flute is Mozart’s most heterogeneous work. It is beautifully integrated in Glyndebourne on Tour’s energetic and colourful interpretation. The opera encapsulates the central theme of his entire creative output, that of human enlightenment and redemption through the quest for love.

Reviving Adrian Noble’s 2004 production, director Frederic Wake-Walker makes his Glyndebourne debut in this wonderfully economical yet visually sumptuous presentation designed by Anthony Ward. Superbly lit by Jean Kalman, layered sheets of backlit gauze provide a rich palette mutating from vermilion to ultramarine to glowing golden yellow, matching the storyline from forest to temple, fire and water, and from underworld darkness to the sunlight of the spirit.

The Masonic elements feature, yet are downplayed, and while the world of the brotherhood in Sarastro’s Temple of Knowlege seems Ottoman rather than Egyptian, the precepts are Islamic as well. As we do today, Mozart looked forward to the common links between different faiths and traditions; but he also recognised that only a century before, Vienna had been threatened and besieged by the fear of that selfsame faith of the Turk.

The role of Pamina the abducted princess was perfectly characterised and performed by Ana James, beautifully sung with great texture and delicacy. German tenor Lothar Odinius made his Glyndebourne debut as Tamino and sang with nobility and resonance, as a hero should, but whilst his voice had great impact, alas on occasions his characterisation seemed sadly static and shallow, which weakened the relationship between them.

Following her Metropolitan Opera debut in the role, Mari Moriya’s Queen of the Night, brought a real sense of theatrical climax, her face the white mask of a savage geisha spitting fiendishly difficult arias, generally coping brilliantly with the high tessitura but one or two of her top notes were uncertain with momentary sharpness.

Daniel Schmutzhard as Papageno showed great warmth and good natured enjoyment, with a flair for comedy and a manner that captured the audience as well as Eliana Pretorian’s Papagena, who provided skippingly energetic and acrobatic support, as well as a very beautiful voice.

Carlo Malinverno as Sarastro had benign rather than awe-inspiring authority, but brought a rich, well controlled tone to shape and plumb the depths of Mozart’s taxing lines, although he was at times submerged by an enthusiastic brass section. Alisdair Elliott’s Monostatos lacked menace but provided more of a pantomime villain, albeit with a whip that didn’t necessarily crack.

Katherine Broderick, Julia Riley and Louise Poole worked well as the attractive trio of Ladies blending beautiful voices with lively comedy, as did the Three Boys, the scampering trebles, Frederick Benedict, Benjamin Richardson and Alexander Dugan, who were innocently charming.

From the opening three chords of the overture, conductor Douglas Boyd displayed his capabilities and kept up a lively and dynamic pace; even when the music was slow there was a spring and vitality and he created a noble and full bodied sound from the orchestra. Musically an excellent cast and a wonderful evening.

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