Opera North’s The Magic Flute | The Lowry: Tuesday March 5th
Tickets Available for Saturday March 9th at 7:00

Opera North held their press night for The Magic Flute this Tuesday night at the Lowry. The Magic Flute is meant to be one the more accessible and light operas, this was a determinedly dark and intense production. Set up in the prelude as a kind of dream-sequence for a child with warring parents in a loud unsafe home, it was absorbing and beautifully sung: often filled with the hot, disorienting intensity of an uneasy sleep.

The cast (including six fairly small children) were exquisitely well-rehearsed and the packed theatre was deeply appreciative. In part because the staging highlighted and centred on the tragic destruction of a mother-daughter relationship and the deliberate undermining of feminine power structures by maroon-clad fascists, I was able to consider the misogyny of the script mostly well deployed. The audience’s laughter at lines like “a women’s job is to fan the flames that she inspires” became an opportunity to appreciate dark comedy in the face of tragedy, rather than an endorsement of the idea that any male desire constitutes a woman’s obligation to their lust. Similarly the summary allocation of women as rewards and bribes by John Savournin’s Rasputin-esque Sarastro (very slimy and as far as I could tell pitch perfect despite, as we were informed at the start, having a cold) became part of the expose of the violence of a patriarchal cult.

Tuesday night was a British Sign Language (BSL) interpreted performance. There were a fair number of hands raised at the end in sign language applause for interpreter Paul Whittaker (as well as loud clapping), who was on stage for two and a half hours and interpreted nearly twenty roles without missing a beat once. Whittaker is a masterful performer. His work included some sharp interactive comedy moments with Gavan Ring, as a very Irish and excellently conceived Papageno. Gavan Ring was also a great foil for Kang Wang’s earnest tenor as Tamino. Wang is a Royal Northern College of Music graduate and a favourite with the Manchester Opera crowd. A winner of the Manchester based Clonter Opera Prize in 2014 – the delightful septuagenarian crew on my right were keen to point out that they had voted for him at Clonter before he became famous and were very excited to see him again. Even in Opera it seems that Mancunians enjoy the cache of having followed the band before they got famous. Wang and Vuvu Mpofu as Pamina had a delightful, light hearted chemistry. Mpofu has a truly impressive range that she is sublimely comfortable in. Her singing seems to have all the ease of talking and her portrait of a kidnapped and then manipulated young woman (who at one point is driven to attempt suicide when Sarastro makes Tamino ignore her for no reason) was excellent and sad.

Sarastro’s maroon brigade ranged from proto-fascist children in cub-scout outfits whose main chorus role was to stop the lovers from ending their lives, through to maroon nuns and maroon-leather clad guards. Without doubt my favourite characters were the three double lightsabre wielding acolytes of the Queen of Night who open the story by slaying two red giant scorpion stings; long red phallic stings. Funny and loyal in bloody aprons they did good and noble service to Samantha Hay’s betrayed and slowly ruined Queen. Her distraught attempt to bargain with John Findon as Monostatos is a low point wonderfully felt in the agony of her singing. Casting a white man, Findon, as the ‘wicked Moor’ of this Opera is a sidestep of the racism inherent in the story but one I’ll accept. He seemed from the prelude to be a version of a creepy uncle and Sarastro’s ‘not having time’ to punish him after his attempted rape of Pamina echo the preludes’ family dynamic.

The stage setting was absolutely fabulous, with massive moving walls that started as a European style apartment and transformed seamlessly into dark corridors for dangerous quests, distant background for a deep forest and banquet halls for board meetings. The was also a fair amount of projection and light show most of which worked perfectly. This was a great and dark staging of The Magic Flute with much to recommend it.

by Tessa Harris

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