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A CurtainUp London London Review
The Magic Flute

The truth, even if it were a crime! — Pamina’s reply to Papageno’s question as to what they should tell Sarastro
The Magic Flute
Kathryn  Lewek as the Queen of the Night and Elena Xanthoudakis as Pamina (Photo: Alastair Muir)
Returning to the Coliseum for its 25th anniversary is Nicholas Hytner’s 1988 production of The Magic Flute. It has already been revived 14 times. So how does it seem a quarter of a century on? It is as accessible and popular as ever, but essentially a safe interpretation.

Mozart’s music of course cannot be bettered with the awesome Queen of the Night (Kathryn Lewek) aria, some wonderful bass singing from Robert Lloyd as Sarastro and a magnificent orchestra under conductor Nicholas Collon. Unlike other operas, we wait until Act Two for the very best of the tunes.

I was drawn to the Australian version of the bird catcher Papageno (Duncan Rock) and his jokey finding and nesting with Papagena (Rhian Lois) although we are reminded by many of the cast of the era when acting wasn’t important in opera. The storyline doesn’t make very much sense with the temple scenes showing the ritualistic worship of two Egyptian deities Isis and Osiris and that mumbo jumbo about Freemasonry and Hytner didn’t seem to want to clarify it.

Bob Crowley’s 1988 designs are quite magnificent; remember this is the era when the barricade is erected in Les Mis and the chandelier falling in Phantom and a helicopter is picking up the Americans from Vietnam in Miss Saigon. The temple, with beautiful marble classical columns, is adorned with hieroglyphs and for a memento mori, whole rows of hieroglyphs are swept away to reveal behind the wall the catacombs of casually stowed skeletons.

In the opening scene the wall is spectacularly fractured with the crack of a lightning strike for the entrance of the Three Ladies, attendants of the Queen of the Night (Elizabeth Llewellyn, Catherine Young and Pamela Helen Stephen). We loved the real white doves that flew in on Papageno’s command. Swathes of red silk fall from the full height of the stage to cover Pamina (Elena Xanthoudakis)’s bed in Sarastro’s palace. There are “real” bears in the woods to be charmed by the magic flute. The templars wear black and white pleated robes with white hieroglyphs printed on black and the Papagenos have delightful bird masks and feathered costumes and perch high up in a nest with their chicks. The lighting is dramatic for the night creatures and red lit temple walls for a ritual religious scene.

Much is made in the programme of the German Enlightenment influence over Mozart with the trial and purification of a pair of lovers in Christoph Wieland’s 1780 Oberon. Tamino (Shawn Mathey) whose performance grew in confidence as the evening progressed and Pamina walk on the burning coals. Nicholas Hytner’s production is essentially light hearted, finding humour at every turn but the price paid is to lessen the dark and shade of The Magic Flute. The intent of the Queen and the villain Monostatos (Adrian Thomspson) with his villain’s coiffure of a balding comb over become glossed over in the mirth.

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The Magic Flute
Music: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Text by Emanuel Schikaneder
English translation by Jeremy Sams
Originally directed by Nicholas Hytner
Revival directed by Ian Rutherford and James Bonas
Conductor: Nicholas Collon

Starring: Shawn Mathey, Elizabeth Llewellyn, Catherine Young, Pamela Helen Stephen, Duncan Rock, Kathryn Lewek, Adrian Thompson, Elena Xanthoudakis, Robert Lloyd
With: Edward Birchinall, Alex Karlsswon, Thomas Featherstonhaugh, Roland Wood, Nathan Vale Barnaby Rea, Rhian Lois.
Design: Bob Crowley
Lighting: Nick Chelton and Bob Mountjoy
Chorus Master: Martin Fitzpatrick
Running time: Two hours 50 minutes
Box Office: 020 7845 9300
Booking to 18th October 2012
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 14th September 2012 performance at the Coliseum, St Martin’s Lane, London WC2N 4ES (Rail/Tube: Charing Cross)

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