There’s a definite shiver of anticipation from the packed audience as the curtain rises on Scottish Opera’s new revival of The Magic Flute, and, indeed, if there is an Oscar-equivalent for innovative and imaginative theatre set design, then Simon Higlett’s steampunk construct would surely be deserving of it. The production gets off to a cracking start as Tamino battles a visually startling dragon and the Queen of the Night’s acolytes come to his rescue and ogle shamelessly at his supine body.
Yet, something seems not quite right as the three-hour production of what must probably be Mozart’s most popular vehicle trundles laboriously along, and it’s as if the show has become slowly enmeshed in treacle. Even the entrance of Richard Burkhard—surely one of the best Papagenos this reviewer has ever seen—does little to get it out of its self-imposed rut.
Mozart himself described the piece as “a vaudeville” and the programme notes go on at great length about the original Theater auf der Wieden audiences’ expectation of what British theatre goers would now class as pantomime, but director Thomas Allen has not grasped the basic elements of clowning in his staging and can’t resist overplaying a joke to the detriment of pace and even some of the songs. (For example, when Papageno is told that he has not achieved enlightenment, he usually replies: “Oh, that’s perfectly alright,” whereas here he facetiously exclaims: “Bummer!”—which is much funnier, but then he dilutes the excellence of the joke by following it with two or three more quips.)
Peter Gijsbertsen does what he can with the bland heroic part of Tamino, and although Julia Sitkovetsky lacks any sense of regality as the Queen of the Night, Gemma Summerfield is quite magnificent in the normally dull role of Pamina and the stage lights up when she sings. Likewise, though this reviewer was underwhelmed by her pantomime-crone costume on first entry, Sofia Troncoso makes an impressive Papagena.
The home crowd are generous with their applause when the curtain finally descends tonight at the Theatre Royal, but, sadly, this reviewer cynically remains far from impressed.