Seriously, This Flute Is Magical
Byline: David Mellor
Mozart: The Magic Flute Martinu: Julietta English National Opera, London Coliseum [bar] omething old, something new, something borrowed, something blue': as a description of English National Opera's season openers, this old wedding rhyme works.
Nick Hytner's production of The Magic Flute has been around for 25 years, and the most striking costumes on display are midnight blue. Richard Jones's take on Bohuslav Martinu's Julietta is new to London, but has been seen before in Paris and Geneva.
Like Jonathan Miller's Rigoletto and Mikado, Hytner's Magic Flute is wheeled out year after year, but unlike them, it's not immediately obvious why. While Miller's mafia Rigoletto and silly-ass grand hotel Mikado are eye-catching from the outset, this Flute is a much slower burn; sober to a fault, with all pantomimic elements excluded.
The central figures in his concept aren't the young lovers Tamino and Pamina, but Sarastro and his followers, who in this production are not members of some Freemasonry-inspired cult, but an Age of Enlightenment tribute band.
These serious men, with serious intent, dominate the show. And Mozart's often gravely beautiful music is enhanced by Hytner's intellectual austerity, which impresses more and more through the evening. Musically, this is well cast and young Nicholas Collon, making his debut, draws spirited playing from the orchestra.
As befits Hytner's vision, the veteran Robert Lloyd, who became a principal bass at Covent Garden 40 years ago, is an imposing Sarastro, effortlessly dominating whenever he is on stage. And, despite the passing years, he gets all the low notes, which most Sarastros don't.
Shawn Mathey's Tamino is solid rather than inspired and way outclassed in the beefcake stakes by Duncan Rock's hugely promising Papageno. But again his sobersided approach fits well with Hytner's. Similarly, Elena Xanthoudakis's Pamina, although decently enough sung, is far outshone in charisma, not just by Kathryn Lewek's spirited Queen of the Night, but also by an unusually strong Three Ladies, led by Elizabeth Llewellyn.
Once more, though, a pallid Pamina is just what Dr Hytner ordered, but of course he is long gone and stand-in directors rule OK. This is said to be the production's last outing. …