The Magic Flute

By W. A. Mozart

12, 13, 15, 16 May 2009
Joseph Rowntree Theatre

The Magic Flute (Die Zauberflöte) was Mozart's last opera and is often hailed as his greatest. Performed more than one hundred times in its first year alone, the opera gathered ever-increasing public acclaim, but lost its composer, who died barely a month after the première in December 1791.

Influenced by the ideals of humanity put forward by Freemasonry, Mozart and his librettist, Emanuel Schikaneder - both members of the Brotherhood - created a witty, intriguing and spectacular tale, which tells of the Prince Tamino's endeavor for victory over the powers of darkness and evil. Only with the protection of the magic flute and bells, can Tamino and the delightful Birdcatcher, Papageno, conquer the trials and perils of the journey before them...

Director - John Soper

Review: York Opera in The Magic Flute; Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York

13th May 2009

By Martin Dreyer

Every opera company’s nightmare is to have one of its principals struck down by tonsillitis: the acid test is how they cope. York Opera had an ace up its sleeve in Carl Reiff, who stepped confidently into the breach, singing stage-side when Hamish Brown could only mime his Tamino.

It was symptomatic of the company’s assurance, in a production designed and directed by John Soper of Mozart’s last work for the stage, given here in the trusty Edward Dent translation. Not that anyone embarks on a Flute lightly: you also need a Queen of the Night who knows her way around Mozart’s devilish coloratura, not to mention a Papageno who can manage a lot more than merely bird-catching.

The company does not let us down here either. On the contrary, Heather Watts is an admirable Queen, spouting her venom with deadly accuracy. And behind Ian Thomson-Smith’s pussy cat of a Papageno lies an engaging baritone which he uses intelligently. These three singers alone would be more than worth the price of admission.

There are other useful contributions from Hilary Minford’s Pamina, sweet-toned and with an apt touch of fragility, if short on diction - as is David Reston’s otherwise sparky Monostatos and the rather blustery Three Ladies attending the Queen. In contrast, the three female “spirits” (normally boys), fetchingly wigged and brocaded like courtiers (costumes by Maggie Soper), blend and project exceptionally well. Steve Griffiths makes an imposing Sarastro and Jennifer Grant a charming Papagena.

Underpinning them all is an orchestra that plays its heart out for Alasdair Jamieson. You would hardly have believed a band of only 17, squeezed into the Rowntree’s tiny pit, could provide satisfying backing in Mozart. This includes (tell it not in Gath) a synthesizer which, in Miaoyin Qu’s hands, does sterling duty for Papageno’s silver bells. Jamieson conducts with immense conviction, right from the brisk overture. He achieved several snappy rescues on Tuesday when ensemble threatened to waver.

Soper’s adaptable set sports planetary surrounds - suns and stars - with central miniature pyramids to suggest Egypt and an occasional chequer-board rostrum. Apart from some ragged choreography, the chorus acquits itself well, in an evening that speaks of a company in fine fettle. Further performances on Friday & Saturday. Booking (01904) 623568.