English National Opera’s clear and inventive production of The Magic Flute, first seen in 2013 and now on its third revival, is the ideal way to introduce a friend to opera.
Director Simon McBurney has unpicked the important message – that love is better than vengeance – from an opera overladen with symbols.
A co-production with McBurney’s Complicité company, there are many familiar Complicité hallmarks, including chalk writing on a blackboard revealing captions, arrows and chemical symbols. An onstage glass booth allows the audience to see the sound artist at work creating footsteps and water splashing.
Papageno’s birds are sheets of folded paper flown around the stage in the hands of the actors – simple but effective. When undergoing their trial by water, Pamina and Tamino swim high above the stage, a theatrical effect Mozart might have enjoyed.
The orchestra and the eager young conductor Ben Gernon are raised above the pit, allowing individual instruments to shine – the flautist and celeste player even become characters in the drama. Musically this is a faultless evening, with Lucy Crowe’s radiant Pamina and Rupert Charlesworth’s athletic Tamino setting a high bar.
As Sarastro, Brindley Sherratt uses his deep, velvety bass to hypnotise his apostles; at the other end of the scale Thomas Oliemans, in guano-covered overalls, is a touching, foolish Papageno who finds an equally touching, awkward Papagena in Rowan Pierce.
The set consists of a moving platform that tilts vertiginously to suggest climbing mountains and a descent into hell. Though the palette is all black and grey, the video projections and lighting provide plenty of spectacular effects. Even opera virgins will love this production.