Opera Scotland

Zauberflöte 2012Scottish Opera

Read more about the opera Magic Flute

No opera company can survive without a bankable and revivable staging of The Magic Flute in its repertoire, and it is many years since Scottish Opera enjoyed that position. The combination of Sir Thomas Allen and Simon Higlett had already shown its quality with The Barber of Seville and, even more, The Marriage of Figaro. Papageno was a central role in the Allen repertoire from his earliest days with Welsh National (directed by Michael Geliot with Margaret Price as Pamina) and at Covent Garden (Colin Davis conducting a production by August Everding with Ileana Cotrubas and Robert Lloyd). He went on to sing it in many of the world's great houses, including the Met, and recorded it twice. Later in his career he added the shorter role of the Speaker to his repertoire. There can be few people who know more about this multi-faceted masterpiece from the inside.

It turned out to be a fascinating staging, greeted with delight by a pleasingly young audience (on 18 Nov). The unit set was a large iron cylinder - it could almost have been part of a factory or power-station or even of Mr Bazalgette's sewage treatment plants. In front were a pair of moveable curved iron gantries, each with spiral staircase giving access to the various levels for the chorus. They parted to reveal a smallish doorway in the main structure for quick entrances and exits. This was not pretty late-Victorian decorative work, but the solidly functional stuff, with lots of rivets on view.

Costumes were also mainly mid-Victorian, most interestingly the men of Sarastro's temple. One group were artisans in overalls, another, the foremen, in frock-coats and stovepipe hats - but both had miners' lamps in their headgear and it all seemed very egalitarian (as long as you were a bloke - the translation really emphasised an apparent level of sexist prejudice which brought gasps from some of the audience). The stokers came in useful for the trial by fire, shovelling coal into the furnaces.

The framing of the performance involved a miniature theatre curtain on the drop, in front of which appeared a luridly dressed music-hall artiste, worthy of Mr Vincent Crummles. He selected a 'member of the public' from a side box, and these two gents, soon revealed as Papageno and Tamino, joined the chorus as the dumbshow continued during the overture. No further use was made of this device until Papageno reappeared in this extravagant costume right at the end.

There were many delightful touches - Papageno's birds were mechanical automata, dangled from fishing rods by frock-coated observers on the gantries. The set of bells was an automaton too, a Buddha-like figure who could be set in motion. The first time this happened, Monostatos and the 'slaves' produced hankies to wave and made their exit in the form of a morris dance. Throughout the evening, the female inmates of the temple were attired in nondescript grey uniforms, not quite nuns, not quite nurses. All became clear at the end when they appeared, each pushing a perambulator - they were nannies taking the young Papageni to the park for their daily constitutional. The three boys sang beautifully throughout, in spite of the fact that, at least in the first half, they were lowered from the flies on wires, and had to sing from the back of the stage and suspended in mid-air (see the fourth photo).

Any musical weaknesses at the beginning of the run seemed to have settled down. As was to be expected in a production by a great Papageno of the past, that character had no difficulty in dominating proceedings, and Richard Burkhard was a natural in the part, making full use of the clever new English version by Kit Hesketh-Harvey. The only minor quibble was that his spoken accent seemed to vary from cockney to northern almost at random. The Queen was accurate and dramatic of voice, and as with her ladies, was attractively costumed. Jonathan Best's Sarastro had no problem with the range of the role, but his near-albino characterisation - blond wig, tinted glasses, seemed incongruous. Nicholas Lester's role of Speaker was expanded to include the Second Priest - a sensible decision - and he and the others all fitted the staging neatly. Whether it was a bonus of the gantry design or not, the chorus singing seemed particularly incisive and clearly-projected.

Performance Cast

Tamino a Prince

Nicky Spence

First Lady in attendance on the Queen

Claire Watkins

Second Lady in attendance on the Queen

Rachel Hynes

Third Lady in attendance on the Queen

Louise Collett

Papageno a bird-catcher

Richard Burkhard

Queen of Night

Mari Moriya (Exc Oct 23; Nov 20)

Suzanne Shakespeare (Oct 23; Nov 20)

Monostatos a servant in the Temple

Peter Van Hulle

Pamina daughter of the Queen of Night

Laura Mitchell

First Boy

Cameron Nixon

Callum McCandless

Second Boy

Daniel Doolan

Lawrence Bissell

Third Boy

Andrew Halliday

Hamish Garrity

Speaker at the Temple

Nicholas Lester

Sarastro High Priest of Isis and Osiris

Jonathan Best

First Priest

Adam Magee

Papagena disguised as an old woman

Ruth Jenkins-Róbertsson

First Armed Man

Declan McCusker

Second Armed Man

Ross McInroy

Performance DatesZauberflöte 2012

Map List

Theatre Royal, Glasgow | Glasgow

17 Oct, 19.15 19 Oct, 19.15 21 Oct, 16.00 23 Oct, 19.15 25 Oct, 19.15 27 Oct, 19.15

His Majesty's Theatre, Aberdeen | Aberdeen

1 Nov, 19.30 3 Nov, 19.30

Eden Court Theatre | Inverness

8 Nov, 19.15 10 Nov, 19.15

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh | Edinburgh

16 Nov, 19.15 18 Nov, 16.00 20 Nov, 19.15 22 Nov, 19.15 24 Nov, 19.15

Grand Opera House, Belfast | Belfast, Northern Ireland

29 Nov, 19.15 1 Dec, 19.15

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