Review: The Magic Flute, English Touring Opera, Snape Maltings, March 27

There are good reasons for the enduring popularity of Mozart’s last opera, first performed two months before his untimely death. It contains some of his most sublime music and memorable characters but, at a deeper level, it can be seen as a post-Enlightenment work in which inner wisdom and spiritual illumination are preferred to scientific rationalism and materialism.

The repeated heavy chords at the start of the overture hinted at Masonic ritual and the orchestra gave a sparkling performance of the fugal Allegro. Ashley Catling made an immediate impression as Tamino, strong and secure of voice in his encounter with the serpent, a human conga suggestive of hedonism and materialism. Wyn Pencarreg’s Papageno was engaging and sympathetic throughout; the audience loved him. It is one of opera’s most grateful roles and Pencarreg captured ‘the child of nature’ perfectly. Camilla Roberts, Amy Payne and Helen Johnson were notably successful as the three Ladies, vocally impeccable and crisp with their actions.

The appearance of the Queen of the Night for her famous aria is always keenly anticipated and Samantha Hay made a suitably regal entrance. The coloratura fireworks held no terrors for her and the clarity and elan of the performance received a deserved ovation. In fact, she was even better with the repeat in Act 2.

Anna Patalong was very successful in conveying the feminine warmth of Pamina, her rounded voice and bright demeanour particularly engaging as she came face to face with Tamino for the first time. Piotr Lempa was a serious and powerful spokesman for Sarastro, Andrew Slater nicely combining authority with humanity in the actual role and Stuart Haycock conveyed a fair degree of menace as Monostatos.

And so to the series of trials that Tamino and Papageno must undergo before Tamino can claim Pamina as his bride. Mozart writes music of astonishing variety and subtlety and James Southall drew sharp and elegant playing from the orchestra in addition to maintaining a cohesive pulse to the changing situations. The tension increased markedly as the thunder rolled, the brass intoned ominously and fire and water were convincingly and economically suggested. However, the trials were eventually overcome, Tamino and Pamina were united and Papageno found his Papagena, a fresh voiced and engaging Caryl Hughes. James Hurley’s revival of ETO’s 2009 production, originally directed by Liam Steel, was clear and comprehensible but with moments to reflect on. The rhyming English version of the libretto by Jeremy Sams was easy to follow and occasioned many a chuckle.

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This was an excellent performance of an evergreen masterpiece, with some astute touches that gave it real quality.

Gareth Jones.

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