The Welsh National Opera returns to The Bristol Hippodrome this week. This season they arrive with another revival of Dominic Cooke’s 2005 surreal production of Mozart’s last opera, The Magic Flute.
With its fairy tale characters, Enlightenment allegory and Masonic references, this production brings together the beauty of Mozart’s music with Cooke’s creative use of Magritte Surrealism throughout the design.
From Tamino’s rescue from a giant killer lobster by the Three sinister Ladies, to Papageno desperately gathering up his offspring which are popping up through trap doors in the stage, the audience is sucked into the strange world and the characters’ journey from darkness to light.
Magic bells see baddies balletically leap across the stage and the Magic Flute itself provides great amusement when it attracts a host of wild animals including a newspaper reading lion spellbound by the music it produces.
Of course, you can throw as much mystique into the design as possible, but for us, the ultimate success of a production of The Magic Flute comes down to two key things.
1. Can the Queen of the Night pull off Der Hölle Rache
2. Is Papageno any good?
Samantha Hay was dark and engaging as possibly the Worst Mother In The World – Queen of the Night. The audience almost collectively held their breath as she performed both her major arias with beauty and ease.
And, audience favourite the loveable and petulant Papageno was delightfully performed by South African baritone Jacques Imbrailo.
His naturally funny bird catcher stole the show and it was a surprise that no lady offered to marry him to save him from a very half hearted suicide attempt.
The one negative of the night was nothing to do with the production at all. In fact, it was a real shame that the majority of the opera audience in Bristol remain as retired white, middle class types who are generally found populating National Trust tea rooms.
Such a fantastic piece of work deserves a much wider, diverse audience to enjoy it.
Cooke’s Magic Flute remains a staple work in the WNO repertoire, and hopefully it won’t be too many years before it returns.