Magic Flute, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, September 2012

This powerful and illuminating production by Nicholas Hytner may be seeing its last outing after twenty-five in the repertoire, so don’t miss this ‘final’ revival. The new cast, with young conductor Nicholas Collon making his ENO debut, did a super job.

Pamina and Papageno, all images ENO/ Alastair Muir

For me the star of the show was Duncan Rock, who recently made a very strong ENO debut as Donald in Billy Budd. Here he played Papageno with huge charm and ingenuousness, and as this is all done in translation he had some fun adding an Australian touch to the early part of the text, calling Tamino ‘mate’ and referring to Papagena as a ‘sheila’. It worked, and Elena Xanthoudakis, another Australian,  gave a beautifully vivid portrayal of Pamina. When she is in anguish in Act II after Tamino won’t answer, the lighting, superbly revived by Ric Mountjoy, showed her to perfection. In fact this revival by Ian Rutherford and James Bonas was beautifully directed, with excellent placing of singers on the stage, giving enormous clarity to Mozart’s late masterpiece.

Pamina, Sarastro, Tamino

As Sarastro, Robert Lloyd showed a noble bearing, a commanding voice, and forceful histrionics at the start of Act II. Furious he is with the Queen of the Night who was strongly sung, after a nervous start, by American soprano Kathryn Lewek, and her coloratura in the big aria in Act II was delivered with great lucidity. Her ladies, with their contrasting voices, came over very well, and Elizabeth Llewellyn with her mellifluous tones was outstanding as the first lady.

Queen and Pamina

There was plenty more in the way of fine singing with Adrian Thompson as Monostatos convincingly egregious in his unrequited desire for Pamina, Roland Wood a strong Speaker, and Barnaby Rea a hugely authoritative Second Priest. Shawn Mathey sang very strongly as Tamino, though his voice was a bit Heldentenorish for my liking, and Rhian Lois was a charmingly Welsh Papagena.

Fine singing and stage presence from the chorus and the three boys helped this production come alive, and although the designs by Bob Crowley, with their Egyptian hieroglyphs and flowing robes, are so good it would seem impossible to fail, good direction is vital and opening night showed it in abundance. The bird costume for Papageno at the start is a delight, and at the end when he and Papagena are united they are both portrayed as birds in a nest, sailing into the sky. Lovely fun.

Performances continue until October 18 — for details click here.

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