Opera Scotland

Shikaneder as Papageno

The Magic Flute in Scotland

Posted 9 Oct 2012

Scottish Opera's new production of The Magic Flute allows us to recall the first Scottish performance which took place at Edinburgh's Theatre Royal on 4 March 1869, sung in Italian as Il Flauto Magico.  The great English baritone Sir Charles Santley played Papageno, with a renowned Irish bass Alan Foley (Signor Foli) as Sarastro.  Pamina was a famous German soprano of the day, Therese Tietjens. 

Our illustration shows the first Papageno, Emanuel Schikaneder, who created the role in 1791, and who also wrote the libretto. The opera was slow to develop popularity in this country, the plot being thought confused and the work being technically difficult to bring off.  The Carl Rosa company did not perform it until 1912, shortly after the publication of Professor E J Dent's important study and translation.  Between the wars, performances remained infrequent.

With the introduction of the Edinburgh International Festival, Scottish audiences were treated to performances by some of the greatest singers from the German-speaking world.  The Hamburg State Opera brought Die Zauberflöte three times, conducted by Georg Solti (1952), Rudolf Kempe (1956) and Christoph von Dohnányi (1983).  Lisa Della Casa, Elisabeth Grümmer and Helen Donath sang Pamina, with Gottlob Frick and Kurt Moll among the Sarastros.  When the company from Stuttgart came in 1966, Tamino was sung by the great Fritz Wunderlich, giving his last performances before his tragically early death back home a few days later.

The 1960s saw several visits by Sadler's Wells, with popular singers including William McAlpine (Tamino) and Stafford Dean (Sarastro).  Scottish Opera then mounted its first production during the 1970 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh.  Peter Ebert's appropriately multi-cultural ethos gave us the young African-American Simon Estes as a lyrical Sarastro, while the Three Ladies had faces painted to match their costumes - green, yellow and pink respectively!

Perhaps the most memorable of the Company's stagings to date was David Pountney's 1974 version, which started as a fast moving midi-scale production.  Guest artists Robert Lloyd and Clifford Grant shared Sarastro, joining Gordon Sandison (Papageno) and Patricia Hay (Pamina).  The two tenors swapped parts, singing Tamino one night and First Priest and Armed Man the next.  Later performances in the larger venues saw Robert Tear follow Ryland Davies as Tamino, and Yvonne Kenny join the company as Pamina.

Later productions were created by Jonathan Miller (1983), set in an 18th century library (Margaret Marshall as Pamina), while Martin Duncan (1992) gave us a 'Masonic' interpretation dominated by the memorably bird-like Papageno of young Simon Keenlyside.  The most recent staging (2004) by Jonathan Moore, began with Tamino (Mark Wilde) apparently doing a spacewalk. 

Glasgow and Edinburgh have each received a visit by the Glyndebourne tour.  The Magic Flute has also been presented several times at the Perth Festival by English Touring Opera, most recently in 2009.

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