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 Heather Buck (The Queen of Night) / Andrew Kennedy (Tamino)
28 Oct 2007

The Magic Flute — English National Opera

Despite rumours to the contrary, English National Opera’s advertising material claims that this 12th revival of Nicholas Hytner’s popular production of ‘ The Magic Flute’ will be the last. Though it’s arguably better to get rid of a production in...

W. A. Mozart: The Magic Flute

English National Opera, 6 October 2007

Above: Heather Buck (The Queen of Night) / Andrew Kennedy (Tamino)
All photos © ENO and Robert Workman


Despite rumours to the contrary, English National Opera’s advertising material claims that this 12th revival of Nicholas Hytner’s popular production of ‘ The Magic Flute’ will be the last. Though it’s arguably better to get rid of a production in its prime rather than when it’s been done to death, it will be a sad loss. The staging has been popular with all sectors of ENO’s audience, as a result of its balance, clarity, wit and visual beauty. This staging more than any other has given me continual pause for thought over the years, leading me to better understanding of the piece.

The ‘ serious’ characters are well-rounded and balanced; after all, they are all supposed to be in some way human. The Queen of the Night is drawn in particularly fine detail; she believes that she’s acting for the good, or why would she afford Tamino the protection of the flute and the guidance of the three boys? Heather Buck’s threatening coloratura was like an explosion of simmering anger and frustration on top of a soft, warm-hued centre, not an all-guns-blazing outpouring of evil. Sarastro, too, has something to learn; as he gets to know Pamina better, he loses arrogance that he never knew he had, and comes to respect a woman as an equal.

Andrew Kennedy was a noble Tamino with lovely tone, though his oddly distorted vowel sounds are becoming increasingly irritating. Sarah-Jane Davies matched him well as Pamina, singing a beautifully poised ‘Ach, ich fühls’ (‘Now I know that love can vanish’). Brindley Sherratt’s Sarastro was perhaps a little weak on the bottom notes, but gave an imposing, centred performance, and Matthew Rose is such a fine Speaker that I long to hear him as Sarastro.

Roderick Williams was a congenial Papageno with considerable charm, delivering Jeremy Sams’s English dialogue in an approximation of a Yorkshire accent. Talking of accents, his disguised Papagena is conventionally played in this production as an elderly Irish tea-lady, which proved a verbal challenge too great for the Swedish soprano Susannah Andersson. Once she was out of ‘ character’ and into the duet, her diction was perfect and she sang very sweetly.

Magic_Flute_ENO_2007_2.pngSarah-Jane Davies (Pamina) / Brindley Sherratt (Sarastro) / Andrew Kennedy (Tamino)

The chorus were on form and Martin André conducted with delicacy and lyricism, but the greatest joy of this production remains the staging. The live doves summoned by Papageno’s pipes; the flood of green light when Tamino is wandering in the woodland; the bears tamed by the flute; the majestic white pillars of the Temple of Wisdom and its glorious interior golden screens with cut-out hieroglyphics; Papageno’s marital nest full of baby birds. Given ENO’s tendency to replace serviceable and popular stagings of core repertoire with misguided ‘concept’ productions, could they not be persuaded to keep this lovely piece of musical theatre for a few seasons longer? I hope so.

Ruth Elleson © 2007

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