Reviewed by Joanne Hughes
Not being an opera ‘connoisseur’, I was a feeling a bit apprehensive about our trip to the Mayflower Theatre in Southampton to see Mozart’s renowned opera ’The Magic Flute’ – especially as this would be the first introduction to opera for my eight-year-old son. However, as the performance was powerful in song, touching in drama, and comical in character – it was a pleasing immersion into this medium of works.
I will admit that I had rather a different idea of what to expect, from the research I had undertaken on the story of The Magic Flute. In my mind, I’d conjured up a delectable image of a more traditional, magical fairytale romance – the handsome Prince overcoming the evils and winning the love of the beautiful Princess, ending with an exuberant Royal wedding and hope inspiring ‘happy ever after’ ending; this version by the Welsh National Opera was more that of an operatic pantomime.
To elaborate on the story, the young Prince Tamino (Ben Johnson) wakes up in a bizarre world where he is being attacked by a monster – not your usual type of monster, but that of a giant lobster. He is saved by Three Ladies, who then began, as my son insightfully commented, ‘arguing over who should look after him’. When their mistress, the Queen of the Night, appears and persuades Tamino to rescue her beautiful daughter Pamina from the grip of the evil enchanter Sarastro, promising him her hand in marriage in return. Tamino willingly agrees to this request as he has become enchanted by (struck by love) Pamina on seeing her portrait. Armed with, a magic flute and set of magic bells for protection, Tamino and his newly introduced companion Papageno, the birdcatcher, embark on their journey.
Meanwhile, the imprisoned Pamina (the delightful Anita Watson) manages to flee her captors, only to be recaptured by Sarastro’s evil servant Monostatus (whose unsolicited advances towards her became quite crude, particularly in the bedroom scene). Luckily for her, Papageno finds her, and manages to scare off Monostatus, and set her free once more. Both he and Tamino then encounter the enchanter Sarastro – presented as a God – who sings of the deviousness of women and convinces Tamino to undergo a series of initiation rites to test his dedication to reason, truth and wisdom before entering the ‘Brotherhood’. Papageno is forced to follow suit with the promise of a ‘true love’ for himself. Needless to say, they overcome the challenges (latterly aided by Pamina) and find their hearts desires at the end.
What I did not anticipate was the comedy presented in this libretto; Mark Stone’s affable Papageno was armed with hilarious quips and witty song – the duet between he and Pamina apropos of the quest for love was both amusing and touching; additionally, the scene in which he and his love Papagena (played by the engaging Claire Hampton) start sprouting mechanical, crawling doll babies upon the dozen was bizarre and humorous in equal measure. Respectively, there were more emotive moments as the performance progressed. The psychological connection between Pamina and her mother were expertly executed, as were the scenes in which she and Tamino conjointly circumnavigate the ordeals.
The vocal range of the cast is astonishing, from the profoundly deep notes of James Platt’s “O Isis und Osiris” to the tremendous heights of the Queen’s “Der Hölle Rache”; from the beautiful, poignant notes of Pamina to the attractive tenor sounds of Tamino. All complimented by the rich supporting chorus of the Welsh National Opera – notably the Three Ladies and the Three Boys (amazing voices for ones so young), as well as the orange-clad ‘Brotherhood’. A huge tribute must be paid to the awesome orchestra (conducted by the talented Damien Iorio) who performed Mozart’s wonderful score with zest and vitality – captivating.
This intriguing version of The Magic Flute has laughs, drama and heart-warming romance, all packaged up in enchanting music and powerful song. With an easy to understand story, sung in English, it is perfect for opera newbies, though equally regulars will love it too. Though, I do feel it is best suited to an audience older than primary-aged children, as some of the scenes were a little too sexual, and it is a quite a lengthy production.
The WNO’s The Magic Flute is currently playing at the magnificent Mayflower Theatre. This delightful theatre is centrally located in Southampton, just around the corner from the main railway station. There are plenty of restaurants and eateries nearby, as well as good parking.
Tickets cost from £15 to £52 (booking fees may apply).
The Magic Flute is at the Mayflower Theatre in Southampton from 9-11 May 2019, for more information or to book tickets visit www.mayflower.org.uk or call the box office on 02380 711811.
Mayflower Theatre, Commercial Road, Southampton, SO15 1GE | 02380 711811