Review: The Magic Flute, ENO at the Coliseum

“Is it me who’s hard of hearing,
there is no-one volunteering”

The ENO’s production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute returns to the Coliseum for what will be its final ever performances. And in this Engilsh-language version – now remarkably 23 years old – originally directed by Nicholas Hytner with this revival with Ian Rutherford and James Bonas at the helm, the combination of fairytale adventuring, earthy comedy, magical instruments and glorious singing still casts an enchanting spell of huge enjoyment.

I particularly love that seeing the show reminds me of what to me, is one of the biggest incongruities in opera. One of the most famous tunes from The Magic Flute, possibly one of the most recognisable arias in all opera, is the Queen of the Night’s second act aria is “Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen” whose crystalline trills are impeccably, gorgeously sung here by Kathryn Lewek and generally sound just heavenly. But the title actually translates as “Hell’s vengeance boileth in mine heart” and in it the Queen urges Pamina to kill a man or else she won’t consider her her daughter any more – not quite what one might have expected from listening to the gorgeous coloratura.

Random Australian accents in productions seem to be the thing of the moment – one pops up in Three Sisters too – here, it belongs to charismatic sidekick Papageno played with great openness by Duncan Rock, who swaggered rather memorably through the recent gayed-up version of Don Giovanni. He clearly revels in the informality he brings to the role and the connection thus built with the audience, even encouraging a most inopportune marriage proposal at one point and he is matched well by the characterful Rhian Lois as his intended, a very welsh Papagena. Shawn Mathey’s Tamino, the male lead, suffered a little by comparison though it is essentially just a duller character but partnered by Elena Xanthoudakis’ shining Pamina, there is undeniably strong quality at work here.

The broadening of the comedy – though it may make some baulk – is particularly well-essayed in the Three Ladies who attend the Queen of the Night. In vivid blue costumes and towering wigs, there’s something almost G+S about them, Jeremy Sams’ translation lacking perhaps a little finesse here but never any wit, and Elizabeth Llewellyn, Catherine Young and Pamela Helen Stephen convey humour well through their acting as well as through excellent singing.

There’s something infinitely enjoyable about seeing such a fun production that doesn’t take itself too seriously in such a grand venue as the Coliseum. If you’re concerned about realistic portrayals of killer snakes then this probably isn’t the show for you, if you fancy some light-hearted but high-quality operatic thrills and trills, then The Magic Flute might be just the thing for you, but be quick, it ends for good very soon.

Running time: 2 hours 50 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 18th October

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