Review: THE MAGIC FLUTE, London Coliseum

Simon McBurney's rule breaking production returns to the ENO

By: Feb. 29, 2024
Review: THE MAGIC FLUTE, London Coliseum
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Review: THE MAGIC FLUTE, London Coliseum It’s odd to watch an opera where the actual opera is an afterthought. At least that’s how it feels watching Simon McBurney’s The Magic Flute. His revival production sizzles with circus spectacle, high tech pageantry, and boundary breaking chutzpah. But underneath it all you’ll be hard pressed to find the warmth of a beating heart.

My diagnosis? A classic case of being too intelligent for its own good. The barren soundstage-style set is flanked by a foley studio and a projectionist who doodles shapes in chalk and then projects those shapes onto screens shifting them back and forth and up and down. It’s like gazing into the lucidity of a child’s imagination. Shapes appear and fluctuate - and sounds bubble and squeak from the darkness.   

Except that the sense of escapist fantasy Mozart’s opera is so eager to generate never quite takes hold. Gimmicks come and go at breakneck speed, eager to cram the Complicité theatre company’s back catalogue of theatrical smoke and mirrors.

It has its moments: Stephen Jeffreys’ deadpan libretto feels tailor-made for the McBurney style of physical buffoonery and clowning. David Stout’s peppy Papageno dips and dives into the orchestra, here raised in sight rather than sunk in the pit, and the audience, not so much breaking the fourth wall but shattering it with his candid charm.

Review: THE MAGIC FLUTE, London Coliseum

Stout joins a motley crew of gorgeous performances. Norman Reinhardt brings a husky timbre to Tamino opposite Sarah Tynan’s full bodied Pamina. John Relyea’s Sarastro is anchored with a particularly lustrous bass and Rainelle Krause is effortlessly smooth but mesmerising powerful as the Queen of the Night. I just wish they had more breathing room to fill the space; Erina Yashima’s high wattage conducting doesn’t so much savour the score but scoffs it down.

Curiously some thought-provoking suggestions linger beneath the surfaces. Sarastro’s ‘Temple of Enlightenment’ world of rational knowledge is not as fun as it seems. Suited and booted in dull grey, his underlings, in suits and ties, swarm around a nondescript board room seemingly robbed of individuality. The finale even recalls one of the tribal ritual dances from Midsommar. It’s not so much food for thought, but a few crumbs to mull over as the next stunt rolls around to drown us in its multimedia wizardry.

Am I being a bore? Maybe. Probably. Yes. It’s an undeniable hoot that’s easy on the eye, but easy on the mind too. 

The Magic Flute plays at the London Coliseum until 30 March

Photo Credit: Manuel Harlan


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