Mid Wales Opera’s exciting new production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute opened appropriately in the Company’s home venue of Theatre Hafren in Newtown to a packed audience, proving once again that opera, once regarded as mainly for the elite or the cognoscenti, is gaining in popularity across Wales. And rightly so, given that Wales has given birth to some of the best singers in the world. Mozart’s sardonic fairy-tale, with its contending forces of good and evil, has more than a hint of the pantomimic, but is none the worse for that, consisting as it does of some of the composer’s most memorable arias and lyrical duets.
This opera has it all – romance, comedy and mysticism. The connecting link which runs throughout is the quest of Tamino, a Prince no less, who sets out to find and rescue Pamina, who has been kidnapped.by the villain Monostatos by order of Sastro, head of a mystic cult. Tamino is helped by the magic flute and Papageno, the birdcatcher who lives in a hut in the woods and whose idea of heaven is hearth and home with Papagena, the girl of his dreams, and a clutch of little Papagenos to make it complete. The story, with its mix of wonderful music , soaring arias, lovers’ tiffs and misunderstandings, set against a background of birdsong and mysticism, also manages to reference the power of womanhood and the number three, the latter being a send-up of the Masonic w which is both spooky and hilarious.
In the role of Tamino, William Wallace is a perpetually perplexed fresh-faced Tamino with a clear tenor, heard to advantage in his duets with Pamina. Frederick Long’s Papageno pulls out all the stops in a performance that bears evidence of Long’s familiarity with the opera and grasp of the role – truly a delight. The latter also applies to Papagena, sung by Laura Ruhi Vidal, who makes her appearance in Act II,
This wouldn’t be opera without the element of evil, the equivalent of the Wicked Fairy in pantomime, here in the shape of the Queen of the Night, Pamina’s wicked and scheming mother ( making a change from the classic wicked stepmother.). This is possibly one of the most demanding soprano roles in the history of opera, with an incredibly high range with which even the most accomplished of soprano can struggle.
Full credit to soprano Samantha Hay who, cocktail-hatted, masked and black ball gowned, takes command of the stage with confidence, soaring to the difficult top F. A creditable performance deserving of the calls of “Brava!” awarded to her at the end. The forces of evil are well represented, with Matt R J Ward as the sinister Monostatos, swooping down like a predatory crow on the unsuspecting and naïve young Pamina, sung prettily by Moscow-born Galina Averina, who has worked with Dame Kiri Te Kana and WNO’s Dennis O’Neill.
Mention must also be made of the three ladies, an enthusiastic performance and some great costumes – I particularly like the red cross outfits in Act I. The orchestra, under the baton of conductor Jonathan Lyness, segues seamlessly between the familiar themes despite Lyness’ reduced orchestration.
Scenically, the production is helped by Declan Randall’s excellent lighting – a necessary facto, as, due no doubt to budget restrictions and the difficulties of touring, scenery is kept to the minimum, a lack particularly noticeable in Act I. Not even a token bush or tree in sight in the opening scene set in a forest, although designer Richard Studer’s ploy of using a backdrop of a giant sun /or moon works to some extent.
THE MAGIC FLUTE Mid Wales Opera, Theatre Hafren, Newtown
Music: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Libretto: Emanuel Schikaneder
Artistic Director: Richard Studer
Reviewer: Barbara Michaels