Magazine article The Spectator

Dramatic Void

Magazine article The Spectator

Dramatic Void

Article excerpt

The Magic Flute

Opera North

Jerry Springer - The Opera

National Theatre

After a long period without any chance of seeing a production of The Magic Flute, in German or English, suddenly they are coming in welcome abundance from at least three points of the compass. The Royal Opera's, shortly to have its first revival, was momentous thanks above all to the conducting of Colin Davis and the remarkable way in which Papageno became the work's moral centre in Simon Keenlyside's deep and subtle portrayal. Tim Supple, for Opera North, has gone in for a multi-layered approach, some of which works very well, some of which is dubious not to say trendily tiresome.

Having laboured, throughout the entire evening, to emphasise the contrast between darkness and light - during the overture the rectangular arch of initiation which is the central prop is subject to constantly fluctuating illumination or lack of it - he decided to reconcile them at the conclusion. This meant that, instead of being vanquished by Sarastro, the Queen of the Night embraced him, and they went down on their knees together in homage to Tamino and Pamina. This eirenic move seems to me clearly to violate the whole movement of the opera, weird and inconsistent as that may be. Sarastro himself is evidently not a coherent conception, but what is confused is worse confounded if you don't allow there to be any force which must be finally vanquished, not embraced, and which is represented by the Queen and by Monostatos.

Things were more complicated by the colour-coding of the characters, too: Sarastro, the two Priests (doubling as the Two Armed Men), and Monostatos are all played by coloured singers, though the rest of Sarastro's retinue isn't. I hope that that isn't in the interests of political correctness, but I can't see what else might be intended. Brian Green, who like several of the other members of the cast is as much a musicals as an opera singer, plays Monostatos as an overwhelmingly sexy stud, as imposing a muscled presence as you will see on the operatic stage, which somewhat unbalances the proceedings.

The Sarastro of Mark Coles potters around amiably, exuding no authority. The Queen of the Night of Helen Williams is sensational: looking like a Forties vamp, she sings her coloratura, uniquely in my experience, with extraordinary venom. She has a larger entourage than merely the Three Ladies, and she and the rest all sport sunglasses (for a too-obvious reason); the Ladies are mistresses of discipline, with high red leather boots. …

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