Tuesday, 28 September 2010

The Magic Flute - WMC 24th of September

Ever since its premiere scientists, mathematicians and statisticians have argued over the exact ratio of ZACKY present in Die Zauberflöte / The Magic Flute. Arguments have raged, punches have been thrown and abaci throwdowns have been swift and violent with tiny wooden balls marking the places where much ZACKY has been spilled. General consensus among ZACKY scholars had been thought impossible, until recent happenings brought about a nodding of heads and puffing of pipes at the 218th International ZACKY Conference in London, where I, dear fellow zachies, was, of course, the fulcrum of events. After much debate, it was decided, following my daring speech, in which I used my pearl handled comb and Fabergé mirror to demonstrate my calculations, that The Magic Flute is indeed nine tenths zany and one tenth wacky. In purely scientific terms it is known simply as the far catchier 9ZA1CKY.

Armed with my superb new discovery I blew dried my hair with exultant fervour and headed towards the Armadillo eager to see if WNO's The Magic Flute would be 9ZA1CKY or its poorer relation 7ZA3CKY.

Fellow ZACKY scholars, for the duration of this paper I shall have to talk to those less fortunate than you or, especially, I, in a manner that their sadly undeveloped ZACKY minds can understand...

Okay, a giant lobster, a set made of a corridor situated among blue skies and fluffy clouds with the addition of high heel wearing birds (oh come on, the feathered variety) and bowler hat wearing Oranje chorus rates as bona fide 9ZA1CKY. Dominic Cooke (director), Julian Crouch (set designer) and Kevin Pollard (costume designer) give us a Flute that lives up to the fantastical nature of the plot with heavy doses of Magritte and Monty Python(?). Of course there are more than enough nods towards the Masonic threads that framework the opera but this is a Flute that can live on many levels, especially as a visual treat for any children who find themselves dragged along by their parents.

Photo by Bill Cooper taken from MusicWeb International

On a personal level I have to admit that although I like The Magic Flute, it's not my favourite bit of Mozart, so if I was going to enjoy myself a lot would depend, not only on the look of the production, but also on the sound of the production.

Peter Wedd (Tamino) is a muscular sounding tenor, and it was the strength of his voice (no pun intended) that threatened to waylay his performance, but as he settled down his singing softened (maybe not as much as I would have liked) and he gave an all out performance. I quite liked the way he played Tamino with a touch of the berk of the role included, and fair damsels and dudels among the audience do not fear, he looks the part of a dashing prince.

As his dame in distress Elizabeth Watts (Song Prize champeen of BBC Cardiff Singer 2007) brought a burgeoning reputation to the stage and showed what the fuss is all about with a superb role debut as Pamina. Gloriously moreish like a box of Lindt Lindor Truffles her Ach, ich fuhl's, es ist verschwunden* was the recipient of my Golden Lock of the Night Award™ in recognition of the pin drop moment of the performance.

But Watts wasn't the only BBC Cardiff Song Prize winner on stage, and in Neal Davies (1991 champeen) Papageno was brought to life with elegantly crafted singing that on times had the intimacy of lieder to my ears. Of all the singers he seemed most at ease with his character and was not only my personal favourite of the evening, but also the audience in general judging by his reception at curtain call time.

The rest of the cast weren't lacking in substance on the night either. Laure Meloy looked, and sounded, the part of the Queen of the Night, managing her thunderfoot / tippy toe Der Holle Rache with the same confidence as she did her dress / ballgown / tent. The Three Ladies (Camilla Roberts, Carolyn Dobbin and Joanne Thomas) dressed as Victorian maids, in keeping with the vibe of the production, served their mistress finely and played the production's comedic angle with aplomb. Pa-pa-paing her way quite nicely Claire Hampton (Papagena) once again showed the quality of WNO chorus members, as did Howard Kirk, who was suitably booable as Monostatos. Tim Mirfin's Sarastro was elegantly delivered but lacked in vocal heft on the night. A special mention too for the three boys, who blended together to achieve that admittedly creepy harmony that works so well in the opera. They were three of these six listed Guy Roberts / Rory Turnbull, Robert Field / Henry Payne, Erwan Hughes / Josh Morgan.

The chorus, as usual, did their bit with aplomb from the most unlikely of places – often with only their heads poking up from the stage floor. The orchestra, under the batonage of Gareth Jones played nicely, if a little tame at times for my liking – but this could well be more to do with Mozart than those in the pit.

A quick recap is that this Flute is suitably bizarre, playing up to the pantomime feel of the work, with performances from the cast, especially Davies and Watts, making it a night worth trekking out for.

*Although the opera is sung in English I prefer to stick to the original German when discussing arias.

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