The Magic Flute WNO Review Bristol Hippodrome:
The Magic Flute
Welsh National Opera – WNO
It was press night for The Magic Flute by WNO at The Bristol Hippodrome last night. That meant nothing to me for once, because I had bought our tickets in March 2018, more than a year before the performance. I was far too excited to see it again.
This time, I took my twelve-year-old son who went through a lengthy phase at the age of four, watching Simon Keenlyside Papageno YouTube videos on repeat. I knew he loved the character and music, but would he manage a whole opera, especially considering his Aspergers makes attending quiet events incredibly challenging.
Safe in the sanctuary of a private box, he thought it was wonderful. From the opening monster, the wickedly funny Three Ladies, the dramatic Queen of the Night and of course, Papageno, the bird catcher with the human flaws. He was incredibly disappointed when the curtain came down for the interval, desperate to know what happened next.
Much of the joy of this production is not just in its artistry, but in its accessibility. The opera itself is a fabulous fairy tale story intertwining the Enlightenment, Masonry, beautiful music and fabulous comic creations. As far as I’m concerned, this is opera at its very best.
This production is also sung in English with English surtitles and is a Singspiel opera. That means it has spoken dialogue to break up the music.
The Magritte inspired design in Kevin Pollard’s costumes and Julian Crouch’s set has always made this my favourite Magic Flute production, still feeling fresh and mystical from the first time I saw it in 2005.
How many other shows open to a prince in a far away land fighting off a giant lobster with a chair? I can’t think of any, but this is the kind of humour that flows throughout. At times, it’s a bit Bowie’s Labyrinth to a different demographic.
Despite the pursuit of knowledge and Enlightenment, I believe the audience’s hearts are firmly with Mark Stone’s fabulously funny Papageno, possibly the true hero of the story.
Some of the misogynistic attitudes from Sarastro are particularly galling in 2019, not surprising considering the choppy history between Freemasonry and women. Sadly, the themes still feel particularly pertinent.
Perhaps the Oh So Clever One in this story ought to consider that the Queen of the Night might not want to murder him so much if he wasn’t so arrogant and dismissive towards her.
In this respect, Samantha Hay’s dark queen was wonderful. A strong and powerful presence with a Der Hölle Rache, like crystal.
Jennifer Davis, Kezia Bienek and Emma Carrington’s Three Ladies also had the wit and the charisma that Sarastro with his big umbrella didn’t.
This is not to say James Platt’s performance and rich tones lacked in any way. The whole character is a little too pleased with himself and his Large Enlightenment. Much like an independent cafe bar in Southville.
However, there’s so much to love about this opera and this production in particular. Revival director Caroline Chaney retells this amazing story for a new generation of opera-goers and it’s one that deserves to be experienced.
The Magic Flute is back at The Bristol Hippodrome on Saturday afternoon: Atgtickets.com/Bristol
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