Regular Battleaxe readers will know that whenever possible, we go to our ‘local’ Opera South-East productions at the White Rock. Sometimes great – sometimes less so. Last night we enjoyed ourselves at ‘The Magic Flute’
Having said that, it was partly because we already knew the story and the music – I think anyone who didn’t might have struggled to understand what was going on. It is totally understandable that given the limited resources available, the Director (Fraser Grant) decided to dispense with much of the mystic baggage surrounding Mozart’s opera and present it as a magical fairy story – largely designed by children. We didn’t have to worry about the eighteenth-century zeitgeist of The Enlightenment and the Age of Reason, nor Jungian archetypes, Freemasonry, Ancient Egyptian religion, race and gender politics, the Tarot, Kabbalah, Eleusian mysteries, initiation rites and so on, which was a relief, but it left us with rather a lot of people rushing about on and off stage for reasons that were not entirely clear….
The principals had become teachers or prefects, and the stage was inhabited by a squad of cute, pyjama-clad children, who gave a Harry Potterish dream-like, ‘lost boys’ feeling to the whole. They (very expertly) manipulated large building-block cubes with letters on. Papageno’s magic bells were glitter balls on strings, (couldn’t they have made some of the strings a bit longer so the tiniest children could reach them? They had to keep jumping up and down). The trials of fire and water were balloons filled with red and then blue glitter. All this was very attractive and effective.
The Queen of the Night was supposedly the head-mistress, which was OK, and Sarastro was a science master, which wasn’t. The role was played by the wonderful Toby Sims – his background as a Russian Orthodox priest gives him masses of deep-bass mystic weight, and we have seen him pull off some blinders, but his zany mad scientist persona in this production did him no favours. Sarastro should be a dignified, grave, powerful figure, and his famous arias are some of the most stirring – and challenging – in the operatic repertoire. They include some of the lowest notes possible for singers. While Toby managed to get his voice down to the depths, he could have projected himself much better, and more easily, if he had been allowed to call on more strength and gravitas.
|Mad science teacher – no.|
Talking of vocal challenges, Opera South-East uses singers for leading roles who are either at the start of their careers, or on the outer fringes of professional singing life. Watching the Queen of the Night (Fae Evelyn) tackle her notoriously difficult arias was real edge of the seat stuff – would she reach the high notes? Would she manage the vocal acrobatics required? If Sarastro goes low, the Queen has to go very, very high, right up to high F, when most sopranos stop at, and frequently struggle with, high C. But all credit, she got there. Total respect. She could have used a bit more welly, but you can’t have everything….
|The Queen of the Night…. (all pictures from OSE website)|
Oh for goodness sake, I’ve just been distracted by videos of parrots singing ‘Der Holle Rache’ on You Tube. Get a life, Battleaxe. Get a life, parrots… No, I am not postng a link on here, even though the birds sing surprisingly well. Put ‘Parrots Queen of the Night’ into You Tube if you want to see them….
The other principals have it a bit easier, and all did a really excellent job. You could hear every word Mark Bonney (Tamino) and James Williams (Papageno) sang and said. Pamina and Papagena were also very good.
|Pap…pappa…. very good|
It was a good night out.