The Magic Flute Review

Forum Theatre, Malvern – 5th July 2024

Reviewed by Courie Amado Juneau


Mozart at Malvern. What a treat! Not only that but the Age of Enlightenment mysticism of The Magic Flute, his last opera (from 1791).

The story is a convoluted concoction that’s, frankly, barking (in an entertaining, pantomimic way). Then again, considering that a magic flute helps protect Prince Tamino from dangers in tasks to prove his worth during his quest to save the Queen of the Night’s daughter from the clutches of Sarastro, her rival…

The first surprise tonight was no orchestra pit. The orchestra were assembled in a semi-circle at the rear of the stage, with just a single player for each instrument! As the overture struck up the hall was filled with glorious music, perfectly balanced. To have a fully fledged opera played with such reduced forces and for it to not jar is testament to the band and their Musical Director Orlando Jopling (also playing the tinkly keyboard).

Tamino (Richard Dowling) gave us delicious velvety tones and he and Natasha Page (playing Pamina) made a very convincing and likeable pair. Her quiet notes (especially) took the breath away with an ethereal beauty! The aria “Oh, I feel it, it is gone” was (for me) the emotional high of the entire piece as it embodied that universal human feeling of your partner’s love slipping away.

Gareth Brynmor John as Papageno provided a commendably multi-faceted characterization. I loved his comedic timing throughout and his “A girl or a woman” was very emotional. His duet: “Pa… pa… pa…” with the wonderful Eleanor Sanderson-Nash playing Papagena was another of the night’s undoubted highlights – the pair combining beautifully.

Luci Briginshaw gave us a hissable, fleshed out Queen of the Night. Her famous aria “Hell’s vengeance boils in my heart” was spellbinding and (to my admittedly wooly ears) she hit all those stratospheric notes. Her opposite number, Sarastro (Edward Hawkins) was impressively sonorous and a commanding presence befitting his status in the story.

This piece is heavily symbolic of Mozart’s Masonic beliefs. The number 3 features prominently with trios (ladies; Eleanor Oldfield, Martha Jones, Abbie Ward and men; Lachlan Craig, Henry Wright, Ben Thapa) propelling the story along at key moments. All were masterful in their parts.

The staging was stark with modern costumes courtesy of Sophie Lincoln giving the production a nevertheless sumptuous feel. This concentrated the attention on the singers whilst also giving the musicians amongst us the rare opportunity to watch the orchestra.

I generally prefer to see operas in their original language as the metre scans better (and it’s what the composer intended after all) but this translation (into English) from Jeremy Sams was adroitly done and I quickly got over myself and revelled in the spectacle.

This highly imaginative opera is, at heart, about the human condition and some very lofty ideals – like love. So, there’s much to warm the heart here – far beyond the perfection of the musical score (which is enough all by itself). I saw Wild Arts before and they were sensational. They were again tonight in a production that was innovative, fresh and delightful and which I wholeheartedly recommend.