The Magic Flute

Wed 12th – Sun 16th February 2014

reviews

Francis Mullaly

at 02:41 on 15th Feb 2014

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I was brimming with anticipation as I walked up the stairs to the magnificent setting that is Castle’s Great Hall, to watch arguably Mozart’s most famous opera masterpiece, The Magic Flute (1791). This was a highly ambitious opera to even attempt for a student opera society, yet I thought they dealt with these demands.

I was initially sceptical of a modernist adaptation of this opera - now set in a contemporary post-war London. As somewhat of a traditionalist, I would have preferred a more grandiose setting, but I appreciated the minimalist setting that was sufficiently established with the use of subtle props and exquisite war-time costumes. Whilst an English libretto was used in favour of the traditional German, this did create a more accessible and less elitist interpretation.

From the Eroica-esque opening of the Overture, the orchestra provided a delicate texture that was fully complimenting the principal cast throughout the opera and rarely overpowering. Under the skilful conducting of Michael Ash, the tuning and pitch was largely accurate and full credit in particular must be given to the woodwind soloists that executed their exposed dialogue passages with relative ease. Occasionally, the musicians and singers were not sounding together, but given the hindering logistics, the musicians created a fine sound.

In short, the principal sextet totally stole the show. The fact that the principal parts were double-casted just shows how technically demanding these roles are. I was reviewing the second cast. Their impeccable costumes were professional-looking and their acting abilities were well displayed. Tamino, played by Hugo Hymas, was an endearing prince and his tenor solos were consistently well-executed. His chemistry with Pamina, played by Camilla Harris, was unquestionable. Pamina’s innocence and expressive desires were particularly exploited in her Act Two lament – the anguish was beautifully demonstrated with her sumptuous melismas. Both myself and the audience however developed a particular fondness for Papageno, played by Lewis Whyte. From his confident opening rendition of the ‘Bird Catcher’s Aria’, the portrayal of a humourous and placid gentleman was compelling. His ongoing relationship with the enthralling Papagena, played by Hatty Ekbery, was simply a delight to watch as we saw her literally come out of her shell, culminating in their ‘Papageno-Papagena’ duet. Sarastro, played by James Quitmann, was effective in adding depth to the masonic ideals of the opera and his lower bass range was impressive. Last, but certainly not least was the Queen of the Night, played by Bridget Tomlinson. Few students could ever contend with both of her extremely demanding coloratura arias, yet on the whole, she coped admirably and strutted around the stage with commanding authority.

The relatively large chorus, in formal attire, produced a wholesome and harmonious sound that truly accentuated the finales of both acts. Despite their stationary stances and lack of engagement, they sounded well-rehearsed and polished. Diction was generally excellent.

Overall, I felt that this was Durham Opera Ensemble’s best production yet in showcasing the best of Durham’s vocal talent and they fully deserved a packed audience. The production and technical teams should be proud of their efforts and in general, I had a thoroughly enjoyable evening.

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