Review Magic Flute July 2015
Somerset Opera's Magic Flute in King's College theatre was a treat from start to finish; Hilary Marshall brought together a truly beautiful production which even managed to make the crazy plot as comprehensible as it's ever likely to be.
After a slightly hesitant second-violin lead-in, and under Andrew Carter's more than capable direction, the musicians did justice to Chris Cooper's re-orchestration - to this reviewer's un-polished ear, they sounded great all through, and nicely balanced with the singers.
Lawrence Thackeray's Tamino was well up to the mission of pursuing his devotion to Pamina - he made an expressive, dependable hero, who deserved to triumph through the various perils which he faced with good heart and exemplary vocal form. Perhaps the worst of which perils was being rescued from a splendid monster by three so-called Ladies, whose unseemly but somehow largely decorous fight over his prone body deserved the many laughs it got. Penny Daw, Lisa Tustian and Iryna Ilnytska inhabited their colourful, big-haired costumes to great effect, a hugely satisfying blend of melodic and comic skills.
And the Queen's daughter sought by Tamino was deserving of his valour. Eloise Routledge brought alive for us the terrors of entrapment by her father's lecherous servant Monostatos - Stephen Grimshaw suitably relishing the role - the vicissitudes of her parental relationships, and the uncertain and at times despairing course of her love life, towards its final happy fulfilment, all excellently conveyed; and all achieved despite Pamina's formidable mother.
Cora Bethke as the Queen of the Night was nicely dark and forbidding in her commands to Tamino and Pamina, and defined the familiar peaks of 'the' aria with thrilling clarity. Rod Hunt's imposing Sarastro ruled events with steady gravitas, holding sway with voice and gesture - a fitting presence to see off the Queen and her retinue to the banishment they deserved.
From the moment Guy Robinson wandered timorously onto the stage, he brought a sparrow-like simplicity to Papageno's every word and action. His performance was a delight, from artless acceptance of his life in the forest, anxious questing with the Prince for their respective loves, and eventual recognition that a strange old crone was actually Katie Bond's lovely Papagena. Their stuttering duet was touchingly perfect.
Three gentle spirits wove in and out of the plot. Vicky Armillotta, Georgina Rosser and Rosemary Moss were enchanting, delicately guiding the hero on his journey to maturity, and ensuring his and Papageno's safety. Vicky gave an attractive leading edge to their combined voices, and their harmonies were absolutely lovely. All the voices - chorus, speaker, second priest and men in [invisible] armour - contributed fully in what felt like an enjoyable production for the company as well as their audience.
Holding everything together visually, the basically simple set design and costuming were charmingly augmented and very appealing throughout. The white of the central multi-purpose arch and costumes of the female chorus, heroine and spirits, and the black of the men's, gave a welcome coherence, which offset well the colours of the other leading characters' costumes. The Chinese-style monster with its lit-up eyes was wonderful, and the big colourful feathers on gracefully curving bamboos were fabulous puppetry, filling the stage with birds. Every detail worked, from delicate nuances of individual costumes to the various masks donned at moments when the chorus and spirits became creatures of the forest. It was a lovely collaboration of admirably creative forces, and an evening to remember - thank you to all involved.