Opera North: The Magic Flute Review | The Lowry | Manchester
The imaginative, operatic world of The Magic Flute originally begins in the middle of a chase following the character Tamino as he is tailed through a forest by an oversized serpent. Here, director James Brining has opted to open the production at a dinner party where we watch an uninvited child play her own recording of The Magic Flute in her bedroom. While her parents bicker with their party guests, she falls asleep exposing a dreamlike production that staggers the party guests as characters within her dream. An extra in her own fairy-tale or possible nightmare, she perches as an observer throughout the story. After settling into the surreal world inhabited by blood-soaked, sword-wielding servants who take on the giant serpent chasing Tamino, we follow his journey across this new landscape that transforms the Lowry stage with layers of decayed and diseased scenery.
Tree roots hanging from the ceiling and enormous Tetris style set pieces tower above the characters, slotting into new placements. Director Brining has modernised Mozart’s 1791 production which embody the rituals and wonder of the original story while integrating sharp projection to engulf the audience into the action. Shrouded with mysterious characters, what first appears to be a fairy-tale journey for Tamino to rescue the Queen of the Night’s daughter from the sorcerous Priest of the Sun, Sarastra becomes a journey of self-discovery for enlightenment. The deceitful world that Tamino navigates sends him on a quest for wisdom and love that incorporates a balance of silence, fire and water.
The show grapples with multiple characters, sets and the trials which are assembled in groups of three. Tamino wrestles with the temples of reason, wisdom and nature, merging with Mozart's personal history of Freemasonry. With plans to restore the world's balance through rational and love, the experience gathers a diverse group of characters who seek power, love and vengeance. The laid back and entertaining bird catcher, Papageno (Gavan Ring) is a reluctant follower who adds a layer of comedy and charm to the story. Alongside love interest Pamina (Vuvu Mpofu) who embodies the fairy-tale element of the quest, the opera's main ordeal is its large cast of characters that are led to an abrupt end.
With a wonderful mix of identities, conductor Robert Howorth allows the varied musical styles to ascend in this spirited production. Pitted against Mpofu’s and Kang Wang’s (Tamino) wonderfully sweet tones, Samantha Hay brings the finest parts of evil to the stage, effortlessly hitting the high F as the ferocious Queen of the Night in the second acts aria.
With the partly sung and partly spoken opera delivered in English, Opera North brings an entirely accessible production to a wide-ranging audience. The show highlights the darker themes of Mozart's work while staying relatable and modern through its new direction. While some of the added elements feel unresolved, the overall productions stunning costumes, visuals and music will keep the long-running opera a memorable experience to old and new audiences.
This review was originally written for The Review Hub