The Magic Flute, Welsh National Opera at Bristol Hippodrome

IT is said that King Henry I died from eating a surfeit of lampreys, and while this new and flamboyant Daisy Evans production was never in danger of dying a theatrical death, it did came close to overwhelming Mozart’s wonderful opera, The Magic Flute.

Individually there is little to criticise in Loren Elstein and Jake Wiltshire’s inventively integrated set and lighting designs – the one giving the action easy constant changes of space as it moved around on two revolves, the other picking up and enhancing each change of mood and atmosphere. The use of neon lighting strips changing colour on the set and hand-held to create an array of Masonic and other symbols was highly imaginative.

Laura Rushton and Sian Price’s selection of quirky, not always flattering costumes, were another visual delight. Raven McMillon’s finely sung Pamina’s costume enhanced her independence rather than vulnerability, and there was little of the dashing hero about Thando Mjandana’s equally well sung Tamino. More traditionally attired were Jonathan Lemalu’s understated and dignified Sarastro and Samantha Hay’s striking Queen of the Night. Samantha’s big vocal challenge, Der Holle Rache, (Hell’s vengeance boils in my heart) was greatly enhanced by the circle of startling white lights against the stark black background which surrounded her.

Quirijn de Lang’s beautifully balanced romantic coward Papageno, the Queen’s bird-catcher, was constantly attended by a lovely array of expertly manipulated hand-puppet birds. As was Jenny Stafford’s no-nonsense love-of-his-life, Papagena.

Alun Rhys-Jenkins’ Monostatos provided more comedy that threats, playing the self-important schoolmaster, taking full advantage of the comedy made by the life-sized skeletal monster, brought alive by two expert puppeteers.

There is no mention of a choreographer in the programme, so director Daisy Evans can take the praise for some beautiful symbolic movement, a delight to the eye as differing sized and coloured balls of light were arranged in a series of fascinating patterns.

With a full WNO orchestra obviously enjoying playing this wonderful score as much as she was enjoying conducting it, Teresa Riveiro Bohm had no problem in ensuring that every singer on stage – soloist. trio, quartet or full chorus – received ideal support. They in turn returned the compliment providing a high standard of vocal output throughout.

There was no question of imbalance between singers and musicians, but with so much inventive, eye-catching, constantly changing and ever present things to look at, there were moments when the singers and Mozart’s music took second place.


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