Friday, September 14, 2012

Strewth! Papageno gets a proposal

Duncan Rock and Rhian Lois as Papageno and Papagena

So it's opening night at ENO, they're doing The Magic Flute and at the moment Papageno counts to three in case a girl will agree to marry him before he hangs himself...someone does. A lady in the second row put up a hand and said "All right!"

The hunky baritone Duncan Rock, recipient of the RPS's new Chilcott Award (in memory of the late soprano Susan Chilcott), kept admirably calm and carried on, but made sure to give this unexpected fiancee a round of applause at the end of the opera. 

The Magic Flute - the fairy-tale that becomes magically deeper the lighter it is - had meanwhile fizzed by in a feast of that gorgeous Mozartness that has made this my favourite opera always and forever and confirmed it in that status yet again. In short, it evokes the way music can protect us through life's most terrible trials, and the way those trials strengthen the bonds between lovers. Never has it felt so true. Its profundity within that feathery touch is comparable, to my ears, only to the comedies of Shakespeare.

It's the last revival of Nicholas Hytner's classic production that has run since 1988. Our friends at What's On Stage suggest that something interesting may be lurking in the works by way of a new take. We're watching that space.

Meanwhile the well-chosen cast made the most of the fun, with plenty freedom to turn it their own way - "Strewth!" shouts this very Australian Papageno, spotting the snake. Shawn Mathey is a full-toned Tamino, Elena Xanthoudakis a powerful and charismatic Pamina, Robert Lloyd holding the stage and the low notes as the stringent 18th-century patriarch that this production makes of Sarastro. Rhian Lois as a Welsh Papagena joined Rock for the delicious upward ride in the Papageno family nest, complete with seatbelt [pictured above - photo credit: Alastair Muir/ENO].

Luxury casting for the Three Ladies with Elizabeth Llewellyn, Catherine Young and Pamela Helen Stephen. The Three Boys were superb. Everyone's favourite character, The Queen of the Night, was an admirably ferocious and focused Kathryn Lewek. And Boris the Bear - one of four cuddly furballs who pad out of the woods to enjoy Tamino's flute recital - is on Twitter as @abearnamedboris and has his own blog...

And in the pit, an auspicious presence: Nicholas Collon, kicking off the new season with his ENO house debut. The Magic Flute is no small ask, but he seemed nothing daunted; the pace never faltered and neither did the sparkle. If I have one little suggestion, it's to give it a tad more time and space here and there to let us breathe the emotion ever so slightly.

It's Friday afternoon, so here is a mega-Mozartian Friday Historical: The Magic Flute conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham in 1937. Click through to Youtube for the full cast.