BWW Reviews: ENGLISH TOURING OPERA - THE MAGIC FLUTE, Hackney Empire, March 8 2014

BWW Reviews: ENGLISH TOURING OPERA - THE MAGIC FLUTE, Hackney Empire, March 8 2014

On a haunted house set that looks like something Scooby Doo and friends would career around, with a set of sliding doors at the top that had me wondering if someone would be saying, "Tonight, Matthew, I'm going to be Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart!", I wasn't short of "low" culture references in mind as I settled down for an evening of "high" culture.

Once the orchestra (under conductor Michael Rosewell) struck up, the magic of theatre got to work and we were soon rooting for our handsome Prince, as he sought to free his damsel in distress with some magic of his own in his flute and some dubious support from his aide-de-camp. This is Mozart as his most crowdpleasing giving us villains and heroes, danger and deceit and, wouldn't you know it, a happy ending!

But this is no "dumbing down" (how I hate everything that deathless phrase connotes) of opera, because The Magic Flute already possesses mass appeal - great tunes, a splendid adventure story and a lovely romance. It also has plenty to say about big ideas like spiritual values vs material values, the role of Freemasonry and the battle of the sexes (played out 1791 style). Yet again, I was reninded that there's a reason why timeless classics are timeless classics - they have something for everyone, something ETO know too. They don't just bring the opera the public geographically, they sing it in English and display the libretto on screens - though every word is perfectly audible. This is entertainment!

For all of my joshing up top, Chloe Lamford's design never fails to give us plenty that is wonderful to look at - something the growing number of boutique opera companies cannot match. Nicholas Sharratt (Tamino) has a delicate tenor voice that is as easy on the ear as Anna Patalong's Pamina is easy on the eye - though she can certainly sing too! The lovers get tremendous support from the company in which, inevitably, Laure Meloy as a Cruella De Ville-lke Queen of the Night and Wyn Pencarreg as a pantomimeish Papageno, stand out.

So if, like me, you believe that low culture vs high culture is a false dichotomy and that there are just things that are interesting and things that are not (according to taste), why not click on the link below and see if the ETO are coming to town. A few notes on Tamino's flute and the magic of opera may prove to be as welcome in your life as it has become in mine.

English Touring Opera's The Magic Flute is at the Hackney Empire until 8 March and on tour.

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Gary Naylor Gary Naylor is chief reviewer for and feels privileged to see so much of London's theatre.

He writes about cricket at and also for The Guardian, Spin Cricket and Channel Five and commentates at His writing on films and other subjects is at

Comments are always welcome.


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