Any opera house could scoop up this imaginative, witty and rather refreshing Magic Flute and present it to audiences who would benefit from being given a production that is bold in concept and actually makes sense.
In recent years it has become increasingly the case that if you not only want to hear and see exciting singing/acting talent the Royal Welsh is the place to be but also to be invigorated by stage craft, design and delivery. Martin Constantine again delivers.
All sorts of nonsense has been inflicted on this opera and while this production will no doubt raise some eyebrows with its updating to some dystopian, post-apocalypse, Hunger Games, Handmaid’s Tale, 1984 etc society the reversal of traditional good and bad (or at least challenging) is invigorating. I have never quite got the attraction of Sarastro’s dreary cult nor why the fun Queen of Night (no “the” in this show) is such a baddie – or perhaps I just would rather be on the dark side.
The setting contrasts an outdoor world of an isolated gas station with a bar/trailer where our young prince is set upon by some thugs and rescued by three 50s style Drive In servers. Papageno meanwhile is a hobo with a shopping trolley of junk and his idea of catching birds is to stamp on them. No cutesy song birds here.
In contrast Sarastro and his crew are in a protected zone (very jolly use of electric fence for some humour in the Papageno and Monostaso scene) where the people are brainwashed and turned into zombies. The glorious leader really is a Big Brother figure and the cult listen to his pronouncements, from a radio station studio, in a dazed blur.
Thus we really do have to try to decide for ourselves which side is right – or if either is.
The show was full of glorious touches. The three boys appeared in very dinky little flying craft that they can zip around in, the trial by water was semi drowning Tamino and Pamina in old oil drums, our two youngsters looked more like Brad and Janet from Rocky Horror Show than traditional Mozart and we even had the RKO Tower (think end of King Kong and the pastiche scene in Rocky Horror Show). I am not sure if Queen of Night was quite Frank’n’Furter but you can see we I am tending towards siding with the baddies.
Gareth Jones conducted a sprightly band of musicians who, despite the heat in the sweltering tin can Sherman Theatre, brought a lightness of touch to the score.
Plaudits galore for Bernice Chitiul as Queen of Night. Unforced, dextrous and elegant. Huw Evans as Tamino brought a rare appeal to what is often a dreary role and he and his fabulous Papageno from Dragos Ionel held the evening together. The former was a zippy sort of college boy and the latter a completely endearing rogue. Pamina was elegantly taken by Lucy Mellors and Osian Bowen was a deliciously evil Monostatos.
Our fab and feisty Three Ladies were Claudia Wood, Christine Byrne and Sophie Dicks and the charming there boys were Xu Jiang, Marinella Phillips and Eiry Price.
The weather dark and threatening Armed Men were sung by First armed man Lewis Ham and Will Stevens with Ed Caird the First Priest and Ross Wilson the Second Priest, bringing a little more lightness into he gloomy old factory/ temple.
Blaise Malaba sang a secure Sarastro.
I am not totally re why the instruments were people but I rather liked it with James Harrison and Andrew Martin as the “onstage” magic bells and magic flute. Were they blindfolded or blind?
I would love to see this Flute again and I don’t often say that!