Review: The Magic Flute, Riverside Studios ✭✭✭

Another enjoyable production cements The Merry Opera’s reputation for producing pellucid, accessible opera. This adaptation of The Magic Flute, re-imagined, directed and translated by Kit Hesketh-Harvey, celebrates the posthumous success of Mozart’s final masterpiece by positioning the composer at the centre of his own creation – an intelligent but largely unsuccessful concept. The newly contextualised plot unfolds through Mozart’s feverish nightmares, the rehearsal process and the opera’s opening night in 1791. Whilst perhaps adding a note of nostalgia to the score, the metatheatricality reduces the once rich, fable-like tale of masonry and enlightenment to fluff, leaving long stretches of the second act feeling a bit empty, denied of its original symbolic relevance.

This problem is exacerbated by some inconsistent acting and patchy stage direction; amongst refreshing flourishes of comedy there are occasions when actors amble aimlessly around the space or stand with their backs to the audience. Consequently, the message of the fable is never clearly communicated, despite being preserved in Hesketh-Harvey’s excellent translation.

Close your eyes and enjoy musical gratification under the arm of Stephen Hose

We are, however, granted legitimate access to the story during Daisy Brown’s breath-taking performance as both Mozart’s wife and Pamina. Alarmingly talented, Brown sings and acts with all the passion and conviction of a wide-eyed ingénue.

Vocally, the cast are extremely strong; the Queen, played by Fleur de Bray, is certainly no disappointment. But, the basic theatrics are at odds with the accomplished singers and even more so with the highly competent musicians. Close your eyes and enjoy musical gratification under the arm of Stephen Hose to avoid being distracted by actors dressed in what appear to be bed sheets, clutching plastic knifes and entering all too prematurely from a curtain not quite wide enough to conceal the wing.

Touring until Nov 2013, The Magic Flute isn’t perfect but well worth a watch.

*** (3 stars)
Runs until 3rd March before touring.
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