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The Magic Flute

by on 23 June 2019

Riotous Spectacle, Gloriously Sung

The Magic Flute

by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, libretto by Emanuel Schikaneder

Scottish Opera at the Hackney Empire until 22nd June

A review by Genni Trickett

As a steampunk enthusiast, I have learned to be wary of mainstream events and productions that claim to be steampunk. Often, it signals a half-hearted attempt to leap on the popular bandwagon by bunging a few cogs into the design and making the ladies wear their corsets over their dresses.

The cast of The Magic Flute. Scottish Opera 2019. Credit James Glossop (3)

Not so in this production of The Magic Flute, however; Scottish Opera have really gone for it. Simon Higlett’s lavish set gleams with brass, there are top hats and goggles everywhere, a delightful mechanical automaton almost steals the show, and a gloriously voluptuous, rather kinky chaise makes an appearance – maybe a sly nod to the rumour that Victorians considered furniture legs obscene. Oh, and there is also a rather fabulous monster, all gleaming metal and glowing eyes.

Peter Gijsbertsen (Tamino) and Gemma Summerfield (Pamina) in The Magic Flute. Scottish Opera 2019. Credit James Glossop (3)

Papageno first appears as a flamboyant Victorian showman, drawing Tamino into the house of wonders, where a sparkly Queen of the Night and a sinister, black-clad Sarastro await him. The Masonic symbols are all present and correct, of course, but they fit rather well into the lavish spectacle. Mark Jonathan’s lighting is marvellously atmospheric, giving us gloomy shadows, bright sunshine and sinister flashes of lightning as required.

Bethan Langford (Second Lady), Jeni Bern (First Lady) and Sioned Gwen Davies (Third Lady) in The Magic Flute. Scottish Opera 2019. Credit James Glossop

All in all, a visual feast. And thankfully, the production itself lived up to the aesthetic. Movement is kept largely minimal, especially during the singing, but what little there is works well. Sarastro’s henchmen lurk unsettlingly in the shadows on scaffolding, the Queen’s naughty handmaidens glide about, full of devilment, and three small boys dangle bravely from the rafters.

Bethan Langford, Jeni Bern, Sioned Gwen Davies (Three Ladies) and Peter Gijsbertsen (Tamino) in The Magic Flute. Scottish Opera 2019. Credit James Glossop (2)

Peter Gijsbertsen is a noble, bewildered Tamino, and Gemma Summerfield brings some welcome melodrama to his long-suffering love, Pamina. Adrian Thompson is perfectly revolting as the cartoon villain, Monostatos, and Dingle Yandell gives an unnerving stillness to the ineffable Sarastro. Julia Sitkovetsky, as the Queen of the Night, gave a bravura performance while singing, perfectly nailing the legendarily difficult Der Hölle Rache.  However, her character lacked power, particularly when compared to her handmaidens, played by Jeni Bern, Bethan Langford and Sioned Gwen Davies.

Julia Sitkovetsky (The Queen of the Night) in The Magic Flute. Scottish Opera 2019. Credit James Glossop (2)

Full marks for James Cleverton, standing in for Richard Burkhard as Papegeno; his is surely the most difficult and complicated role, but he really pulls it off. His clowning and theatrics give a much-needed lift to the meandering story line, and in this he was greatly aided by Sofia Troncoso’s ridiculously entertaining Papagena.

Sofia Troncoso (Papagena) and Richard Burkhard (Papageno) in The Magic Flute. Scottish Opera 2019. Credit James Glossop

The orchestra, doubtless sweating away in their pit on such a hot night, were simply wonderful, and the sound levels were spot on.

It is impossible to review The Magic Flute without touching on the thorny issue of its innate sexism and misogyny. In this production its troublesome presence was greatly alleviated by Kit Hesketh-Harvey’s witty, slightly modernised English libretto and Sir Thomas Allen’s light, comic direction. Together they emphasised the fact that almost everything and everyone in this opera is ridiculous, and should not be taken seriously. It is a sumptuous, riotous spectacle, gloriously sung and marvellous fun. That is all.

Genni Trickett
June 2019

Photography by James Glossop

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