Welsh National Opera Magic Flute review

TAMINO AT THE BULLINGDON CLUB

THE MAGIC FLUTE
Welsh National Opera at Birmingham Hippodrome ***

This surrealist knockabout production sent a packed matinee audience home in good humour. The comic elements were well executed and appreciated: the magically tamed animals and Monostatos's mesmerized capering cohorts, especially so. The slapstick emphasis made Mark Stone's Papageno its de facto hero, his double-takes and wheedling were spot on and he sang engagingly if without beauty. But Mozart's rustic clodhopper he wasn't – there was too much of the Cambridge footlights about his performance. The opera is sung in English which greatly benefited the salacious shenanigans of the Three Ladies (all splendid in voice and action) as they switched from stern Edwardian governesses to thigh-flashing Montmartre tarts in their designs on Tamino.

But Mozart's sublimity was in short supply. Ben Johnson's Tamino, in evening dress minus jacket and tie askew, looked as if he'd been dining at the Bullingdon Club and wandered on stage by mistake while seeking the lavatory. You can't be a hero looking like that while fighting a giant lobster with a chair. Anita Watson (Pamina) was a plucky if plebeian princess but Anna Siminska had hauteur and slinky elegance as Queen of the Night, the coloratura of her second aria even and crisp, which compensated for the tentative squeak of her top F in the first. Jihoon Kim has not the basso profundo voice required for Sarastro – the lowest notes emerging as approximately-pitched barely articulated growls. Howard Kirk's Monostatos (all references to blackness PC redacted) was fun. Thomas Blunt's conducting was routine, the overture's opening chords flaccid.

Norman Stinchcombe

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