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The Magic Flute review at Grand Theatre, Leeds – ‘an ambitious production’

Mozart’s opera contains so many elements – fairytale, quest story, spiritual journey, low comedy and high-minded defence of Freemasonry – that any production is hard put to it to keep them all in play while preserving some semblance of unity.

Interviewed in the programme booklet to his Opera North production, James Brining is clearly aware of the magnitude of the task but equally determined to create a show “that has something to say about today”.

That’s surely the right goal, and if what he has achieved only partially holds together he and his design team plus a strong cast certainly keep the audience involved.

The show starts with a young girl putting on an LP of the overture which launches the opera while in the background a row kicks off at an upmarket dinner party; she remains present as an observer for much of the action.

Exactly where and when the events portrayed are happening is uncertain, but Sarastro – traditionally presented as the wise leader of a spiritual brotherhood – registers here as a misogynistic creep running a sinister cult; there’s more than a hint of The Handmaid’s Tale about proceedings. At the end his followers appear to liberate themselves, and one can only cheer them on.

If the narrative trajectory of the piece feels insecure, the music-making under period-specialist conductor Robert Howarth maintains spirited tempos and energised textures.

Vocally notable are Australian-Chinese tenor Kang Wang, whose vital, brilliant tone is a major asset; South African soprano Vuvu Mpofu, whose Pamina grows ever more expressive as the evening proceeds; John Savournin’s firm, authoritarian Sarastro; Gavan Ring, whose Irish brogue forms an important part of his charm offensive as Papageno; and Samantha Hay, who hits all the high notes as the Queen of the Night.

 

Verdict
James Brining’s ambitious, if occasionally unclear, production of Mozart’s philosophical comedy  

Production Information

Production
The Magic Flute
Venue
Grand Theatre
City
Leeds
Starts
January 19, 2019
Ends
March 1, 2019, then touring
Press night
January 19, 2019
Librettist
Emanuel Schikaneder, Jeremy Sams
Composer
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Director
James Brining
Conductor
Robert Howarth
Set
Colin Richmond
Lighting
Chris Davey
Video
Douglas O’Connell
Production manager
Ray Hain
Cast includes
Vuvu Mpofu, Kang Wang, Gavan Ring, Samantha Hay, John Savournin, John Findon, Dean Robinson, Amy Freston
Casting
Christine Jane Chibnall
Producer
Opera North
Running time
2hrs 50mins