The Magic Flute

BRONTE PHILIPS is underwhelmed by an ‘accessible’ opera that is lacking in wow-factor.

ADC bronte philips johnny hyde magic flute mozard XAVIER HETHERINGTON

ADC Theatre, Tues 29th October – Sat 2nd November, 7.45pm, £12/10

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The Magic Flute is, in many ways, your standard opera: packed full of high drama, spectacle and true-yet-troubled love with all the appropriate accompanying musical themes.  But the story itself is a bit wild. It’s full of magic and mythical beasts, a clash of light and dark, good and evil, truth and lies, transporting us from the perils of superstition into Mozart’s enlightened realm of clear sightedness – or, at least it would have done, if it weren’t for an over-zealous application of dry ice.

I entered the theatre with no special expectations. Ramble on all you like about The Magic Flute being an accessible opera (and the programme does…) – it was originally written to target the rowdy mob of the less discerning theatre-goer by including standard dialogue but there’s more to it. Whilst many of the parts are straightforward enough, others are so technically demanding that you wonder who Mozart was trying to upset when he wrote them. It was never going to be an easy piece to pull off, containing both one of the highest and lowest notes in the operatic world. But apart from what I can only assume to be a rabbit stuffed down something in the brass section, a flute that wasn’t so magical and the appalling misogyny (otherwise known as 18th century wisdom), the earplugs I’d packed just in case were redundant.

Admittedly, the start did more to baffle me than to deafen me. To provide distraction during Mozart’s ten minute overture, a montage of mimed English gentleman took over the stage – presumably this was a symbol for enlightenment, but seemed to bear a greater resemblance to the Pitt Club.

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However, things rapidly got better. Both the staging and the choreography proved to be real visual assets, offering their own original imaginative flair. Highlights included the transformation of the traditional, plump, male cherubs into graceful, muse-like moving female statues.

Equally, the use of ballet dancers as improvised mystical beasts brought to life an otherwise minimalist space, yet more could have been made of the woodland setting, key to Mozart’s obsession with darkness and enlightenment.

But the cast have the power to make or break an opera. Whilst the performers were clearly selected for vocal prowess over acting ability, the performances of comedic characters such as Monostatos (Xavier Hetherington), the creepiest pervert ever unleashed on opera, keep the audience ready to laugh and cheer in the appropriate places. Papageno (Johnny Hyde) undoubtedly stole the show as a lonely, horny birdman with his simpleton charm and slapstick comedy. The humour is intensified by his more tender moments with Pamina (Anna Cavaliero), because nothing says friendship like a shared aria, and his bawdy yet heart-warming relationship with his very own birdwench, Papagena (Sophie Horrocks), is a welcome reward for all the trials he’s managed to fail spectacularly.

Whilst The Magic Flute is in parts fiendish to the point of sado-masochism, the ADC’s production was so full of joviality, humour and enthusiasm that even a fervent opera-hater would be challenged to suppress the odd titter.

I may not have left enlightened, but I certainly had fun.