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The Magic Flute review at Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff – ‘moralising and mirth’

The cast of the Welsh National Opera production of The Magic Flute. Photo: Bill Cooper
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Only Mozart could so deftly have celebrated the Age of Enlightenment through an opera spanning moral philosophy, high drama, fairytale romance – and slapstick.

The Magic Flute is intended as serious, Singspiel entertainment; bursting with idealism as freethinking youth triumphs over a shadowy, superstitious, old guard. 

Director Dominic Cooke enjoys its enigmas and Masonic symbolism in this revival of his 2005, Magritte-inspired production for Welsh National Opera. On three sides, nine doors are set by designer Julian Crouch in a puffy-clouded blue sky.

Through them come sinister figures to challenge our twin, heroic couples. Who is telling the truth? And what is truth – wisdom, reason, nature – in this surreal dreamworld, where music is an amulet against bowler-hatted monsters and guides ride airborne penny-farthings?

Anna Siminska’s Queen of the Night hits the high notes with piercing clarity, yet more potentially disturbing is her nemesis Sarastro, cavernously sung by James Platt. A misogynist strongman leader, with Brotherhood minions in identikit orange and a would-be rapist henchman Monostatos (Howard Kirk), his mix of persuasion, threat and pseudo-care would, with greater dramatic presence, be yet more chillingly resonant today than in 2015, when this production was last revived.

Tamino (Ben Johnson) and Pamina (Anita Watson) solemnly undertake their tests to win each other and the day in lyrical voice, while Papageno – a funny and endearing Mark Stone – gathers birdy wits to win his Papagena (Claire Hampton) and emerge as people’s champion.

With a well-matched supporting cast, chorus and WNO orchestra, conductor Damian Iorio marshals his forces with conviction, if occasionally patchy ensemble and pedestrian phrasing. More of a trial is the unchallenged sexist moralising in Jeremy Sams’ stolidly rhyming English translation.

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Moralising, mirth and surreal symbolism combine in Dominic Cooke’s production