Anne Hailes reviews: The Magic Flute

The Magic Flute

10th and 11th September 2014 Lyric Theatre
13th Millennium Forum Derry

Northern Ireland Opera reached a new high this week at the Lyric Theatre with Mozart’s Magic Flute. The production was well run-in following performances in Armagh and Omagh and again a sell out to a receptive audience. This is the first time the company have tackled Mozart and hopefully won’t be the last, this composer is my favourite and I get the impression delightful to sing. Eight of the principals are Irish born as is the chorus with international artists Anthony Gregory (Prince Tamino), Ruth Jenkins-Robertsson (Queen of the Night) and John Graham-Hall (Monostatos).

It’s the usual girl and boy story on two levels, the handsome prince and the young girl, his friend the bird man and the maid. Then there’s the mother and the father, the sleazy manservant and so it goes on.

Only fair to give the librettist a mention because Emanuel Schikaneder’s plot line is both witty and compelling.

This performance is classified as ‘singspiel’, both singing and spoken dialogue so the story line, although complicated at times, is more easy to follow and proves to be as relevant today as in 1791 when theatre-goers in Vienna first heard the opening bars of the overture, those lovely little conversations between instruments that give a flavour of what’s to come.
The company are called on to act and they don’t fail their producer Oliver Mears.

We are captured from the word go as three beautiful women pounce on a handsome prince who has been fighting a very huge serpent, faints as the reptile grips his leg and the girls come to his rescue, stripping off his clothing each lusting after him for herself! The last Magic Flute I saw these three handmaidens of the Queen were big and buxom, by contrast these girls, Sinéad O’Kelley, Sarah Richmond and Laura Murphy, are just the opposite, slim and sexy with terrific voices, some beautiful harmonies in their singing.

When they leave the stage, the love lorn Papageno (Ben McAteer from Newry) arrives on the scene and the two men bond, each looking for a woman who will love them and whom they will love in return. We see a little of Mozarts times, the kidnap of a young woman by Sarastro (Stephen Richardson), her ill treatment at the hands of a lustful evil sorcerer Monostatos, the power of the Queen of the Night who can control her subjects like a dominatrix with a superb voice. The scenes where members of the ‘brotherhood’ meet, with two scantly clothed young woman dancing for them and servants waiting on them hand and foot is somewhat chilling but both composer and lyricist were members of the masonic order, the programme note from Mears confirms that women and working class characters had no place in or around the brotherhood.

It turns out the three girls are kind, they give Tamino a flute which has magical powers to change sorrow into joy. They give Papageno magic bells for protection, and they give them three child spirits who will guide the unhappy men to love and satisfaction. The prince gets the girl and Papageno gets his Papagena (Lynsey Curtin) and everyone lives happily ever after.

What a melting pot of emotions and plot lines the audience live through but they all come together beautifully in this production and the musicians in the orchestra like the singers on the stage give us Mozart to perfection.
There’s only one drawback, five performances? Not nearly enough.

By Anne Hailes

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