Tuesday, 2 July 2019

Mozart - The Magic Flute (Belfast, 2019)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Die Zauberflöte

Scottish Opera, 2019

Tobias Ringborg, Thomas Allen, Peter Gijsbertsen, James Cleverton, Julia Sitkovetsky, Gemma Summerfield, James Creswell, Adrian Thompson, Jeni Bern, Bethan Langford, Sioned Gwen Davies, Sofia Troncoso

Grand Opera House, Belfast - 27th June 2019

There are many reasons why The Magic Flute is considered to be a marvel of opera and any one of them is a good enough reason why you should never pass up an opportunity to see it. There are many ways of looking at the work, it's capable of being presented in any number of ways and there's always the potential to reveal many fresh perspectives. You could say the same about any mature Mozart opera of course but Die Zauberflöte has such a variety of tones and challenges that ensure that when you get it right it's dazzling. The Scottish Opera production is definitely that.

It's even worth going to see the same production that you might have already seen before, because what makes the Scottish Opera Magic Flute special is how it takes advantage of all those many facets of Mozart's genius that go into this work, but above all it makes you smile. This same production was last presented in Belfast seven years ago and my recollection was that it was a memorable production for its visual look and presentation more than any radical insights or interpretation is forgotten, but I had forgotten just how entertaining it is and really just how brilliantly it captures and transports Mozart's genius across the centuries.

Sir Thomas Allen's steampunk setting didn't seem so important this time. It doesn't really invite any consideration or reveal any great insights into the work. If you want you can see it as a bold alternate-world look at what the future could potentially be/have been, of the necessity to be prepared to face change in the world. The armoured men scene and final trials bring you back to those themes, Mozart's belief in the betterment of humanity through change, enduring the challenges and hardships that come with it but with trust, faith, love, steadfastness and truth they will be equipped to endure what lies ahead in the future. So it's in there in the production and it's certainly welcome to have something to think about amidst all the ritual Masonic nonsense of the second half, but it's by no means the central point of this production.

The setting suggests something else that is important to help humanity get through the challenges of what lies ahead, and that's music. The fairground attraction aspect of the Scottish Opera production does bring the work back to its popular Singspiel music hall roots, and to the ideal of music as entertainment. It's called The Magic Flute and music does charm the savage beasts in the work. Between them Mozart and theatrical entrepreneur Emmanuel Schikaneder know exactly what makes people tick and know what they want, and they give it to them in this work. And Thomas Allen's Scottish Opera production brings that out superbly.

But there's much more to Die Zauberflöte than that; there are a whole variety of musical tones to the work, from ceremonial to playful, from joyous to the depths of despair. Conductor Tobias Ringborg and the cast ensure that all these moods are catered for here. Julia Sitkovetsky's Queen of the Night was superb, bring all the vocal fireworks, Gemma Summerfield stood out as a much stronger Pamina than we usually find in this opera (as sign of the times maybe), her 'Ach, ich fühl's' impressive, measuring the highs and lows of her character's experience. It's not so much the clichéd roller-coaster as much as a demonstration of the range and ability of Mozart and his capacity to express, understand the whole range of human experiences and qualities, conflicts and doubts.

While all the various aspects of the work are well catered for, it's humour that takes precedence. In comparison to the 2012 production, where Nicky Spence brought a more down-to-earth quality and knowing humour to the proceedings, Peter Gijsbertsen is a rather more traditional earnest straightman Tamino to Papageno and James Cleverton took full advantage of this. If Scottish Opera's Die Zauberflöte almost becomes the Papageno show however, it's not without justification, as Papageno is the one figure who brings out that essential spirit and recognition that all of us, any one of us can be better.

Papageno is the ordinary person amidst all these grand figures; he's not so brave, not so perfect and he can speak without thinking and make mistakes. He literally speaks directly to the audience, and - in dual role as Master of Ceremonies - he even tips a nod and a wink to the audience that reminds us that we don't need to take it all too seriously. Maybe with companionship, food, wine and maybe even a metaphorical drug of choice now and again we have all the nourishment one needs to enjoy the magic of life. And the magic of music too, which of course is present and an essential part of Papageno's world.

There aren't many operas that can carry that kind of message of universal importance in such an entertaining form that brought the house of the Grand Opera House in Belfast to it's feet. Personally, I had a grin plastered on my face all the way through. This was a very welcome return of the Scottish Opera's 2012 production of The Magic Flute, and I'd definitely go and see it again in another seven years time. Heck, I'd happily go and see it again tomorrow.

Links: Scottish Opera