BWW Review: THE MAGIC FLUTE, Royal Opera House
A big Harry Potter-ish serpent, a Salad Days-y enchanted glockenspiel, a Scooby-Doo-ish birdman, a pre-Ford Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and enough underground conspiracies to keep the most fervent follower of QAnon frothing at the mouth - what's not to like? Well, a bit - but more of that later. But how can you not love a show that includes the line "I forgot my magic bells!".
Bábara Lluch's revival of David McVicar's crowdpleaser (back for the umpteenth time) still shines with its clarity of storytelling, John McFarlane's stunning visuals (no CGI, thank Osiris) and all those notes in those timeless tunes. This Singspiel (think 18th century musical theatre, with Mozart as Leonard Bernstein) stays effortlessly relevant and equally effortlessly appeals to the the panto fan in all of us whilst pricking our intellectual curiosity with eternal dilemmas about romance, responsibility and redemption.
Benjamin Hulett is our hero, Tamino, whose love for Pamina (Elsa Dreisig, flirtatious but never frivolous) leads him into a something that looks like a Masonic Temple to face do-or-die trials. Vito Priante is his reluctant sidekick, Papageno, whose out to eat, drink and be merry in search of a wife, the motivation that just about keeps him going. Priante is so charming and full of fun that you're delighted when he does find his Papagena, Yaritza Véliz, a chavvy but sexy (soon-to-be) mother.
So far, so clear, but things get tricky with the two mystical figures at loggerheads. Tuuli Takala, hitting the high notes, appears to be a wronged woman, but The Queen Of The Night slowly reveals herself to be a force for ignorance, holding back the cleansing advent of dawn. She appears in a chiaroscuro light reminiscent of Italian religious paintings - perhaps that Roman iconography was intended by Mozart and his librettist, Emanuel Schikaneder, Freemasons both.
Sarastro, Andreas Bauer Kanabas's sonorous bass lending gravitas to his Prosperoish patriarch, slides along the spectrum from villain to hero without ever fully resolving as either archetype, unlike the Noseferatu lookalike and would-be rapist, Monostatos, played with mad Kinskian menace by Rodell Rosel.
While some of the less er...enlightened stereotypes have been shrewdly repurposed - see Monostatos above - there's still an uneasy attitude towards women (basically, they're temptresses, evil liars or baby factories) throughout, which offends 21st-century sensibilities, but might not have gone over big even in the late 18th century when the opera was first performed. Oh well - if that's the price for the fun and profundity, so be it.
Leo Hussain marshals his orchestra under an assured baton and, from a seat towards the back of the stalls, I felt a richer, less sharp tone, than I am used to, the voices floating on the music rather than running alongside it - but maybe Paule Constable's gorgeous light had something to do with that.
As usual with opera, there are times when you'd like them to get on with it a bit, but far fewer such moments in this production than in most others. And then there's that final scene - well worth the wait and the trials endured by Tamino.