Royal Birmingham Conservatoire's Magic Flute

A STELLAR MAGIC FLUTE

THE MAGIC FLUTE
Royal Birmingham Conservatoire at the Crescent Theatre ****
Michael Barry has directed some sublimely elegant operatic productions for Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, and sadly this brilliant presentation of Mozart's Magic Flute will be his last. His urbane and knowledgeable influence will be missed.
Knowing this stage so well, he has created an economical setting (basically two flats, one side of which represents the scary forest, the other the coppery grandeur of Ancient Egypt) upon which his witty, occasionally Monty Pythonesque production unfolds. Again typical of Barry, movement is smooth and to the point, and these young performers have been well coached in such details, and their spoken delivery of the English dialogue (the musical numbers are sung in Mozart's German) is engaging and well-timed -- and for many of the soloists this is not their native tongue.
Christopher Bucknall conducts a neat little orchestra, though ensemble between the cramped pit and stage is not always perfect (perhaps a baton would help, however personally uncongenial), and his tempi are always judiciously chosen.
The show is double-cast. There were no weaknesses in the troupe I heard, and some outstanding successes. Jack Dolan's Tamino was tireless and ardent, Ivonne Porras Ocampo's Pamina was both charming and vulnerable, Andrei Kuschinsky's Papageno was a comic delight, and Jack Whiting made a pantomimic Richard III of Monostatos, here a hunchback (though is that less politically incorrect than the customary blacking-up?).
And Lixin Liu's Queen of the Night was simply stellar, coloratura bubbling, her soarings into the stratosphere fearless and imperious, matching her stage persona.
Just one quibble. Amateurs aspiring to professional standards should respect the audience. An unexplained 10-minute delay to the starting-time left many of us, lifetime supporters of the Conservatoire, tut-tutting.
Christopher Morley

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