United Kingdom Mozart. The Magic Flute (sung in English with English and Welsh titles): Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of Welsh National Opera/ Lothar Koenigs (conductor),Venue Cymru (North Wales Theatre), Llandudno. 13.3.2015 (RJF)
Tamino, Allan Clayton
Pamina, Sophie Bevan
Papageno, Daniel Grice
The Queen of Night, Samantha Hay
Papagena, Claire Hampton
First Lady, Camilla Roberts
Second Lady: Máire Flavin
Third Lady, Emma Carrington
Monostatos, Howard Kirk
First Boy, Rachel Mills
Second Boy:,Katrina Nimmo
Third Boy, Jenny Bianco
Speaker, Ashley Holland
Sarastro: Scott Wilde
A Priest, Simon Crosby-Buttle
First Armed Man, Philip Lloyd Holtham
Second Armed Man, Aidan Smith
Original Director, Dominic Cooke
Revival Director, Caroline Chaney
Set Designer, Julian Crouch
Costume Designer, Kevin Pollard
Lighting Designer, Chris Davey
Chorus Master, Alexander Martin
This production was first seen in Llandudno in March 2008 when I felt that for Mozart’s last staged opera the production and sets did no service to his singspiel masterpiece. If the shoebox set, with its trios of three doors, and the distinctive dress of Sarastro’s bretheren, were meant to underline any Masonic allusions I do not know, but the preponderance of orange made any allusion for many in the audience more Northern Irish than masonic! However, the well-packed audience at Venue Cymru not only laughed at the orange bowler-hatted bretheren when their heads popped out from openings in the floor, as the audience did in 2008, but also as Sarasatro called for the votes in support of Tamino’s admission to their number when orange umbrellas were raised, in sets of four from the same holes, to affirm approval, the actions producing fits of sardonic giggles from the audience; a great pity stage directors do not take the hint! Laughing at is not the same as laughing along with an idea. Likewise, having a serpent that Papageno claims to have killed being more like a giant gastropod, head out of one door, tentacles out of two others, rather a handful for any mortal, bird catcher, or even for the three formidable ladies Mozart and Shikaneder allotted the task. The trial by fire using the same openings in the floor as for the orange bowler hatted brethren was moderately effective whilst the trial by water was very feebly realised.
Putting production stupidities to one side the musical content was very good indeed. First up for approbation was the conducting of Lothar Koenigs who was outstanding. He has missed out during the recent WNO bel canto seasons and it was good to hear his masterful manner with the orchestra and chorus in repertoire, which he has at his fingertips, or tip of the baton. Add the usual eulogies for the WNO chorus, who earlier in the week had an evening more or less to themselves, and made the most of it, and it was only up to the soloists to make this a musical night to remember. Often enough in recent years, when WNO get to their North Wales outpost, some of the premiere cast from Cardiff have gone to other pastures. This is fair enough when the replacements have been of good calibre, as they usually are. However, good calibre is, in this case, an insufficient a description for Daniel Grice’s interpretation of Papageno, the youthful bird catcher of the story who is not into rituals or trials and merely wants a wife. Grice has been the cover for the whole Cardiff season and the spring tour, except for the two Llandudno performances. Youthful of figure, his acted assumption matched his clear well-articulated mellifluous toned lyric baritone. Add excellent legato to his vocal expression, clear diction and acted interpretation made his contribution the highlight of the performance for me. His clear and incisive diction reminded me of an experience in 1970 when I first heard Thomas Allen in the same role, also singing in English, in his case with a Geordie accent. It was an outstanding interpretation and we all know that Allen is still, now in his seventies, singing at the best addresses. I suggest that Grice, with careful choice of repertoire and a diligence, will have as good and long a career in his chosen profession as Sir Thomas. I hope WNO keep him in sight and provide the kind of security of opportunity that his Papageno points towards deserving. I believe that he is to sing the role in WNO’s summer season in Cardiff and Birmingham, it is an interpretation worth catching.
All the other members of the singing cast were at least adequate and often more than that. Allan Clayton is a convincing Tamino although he should perhaps soften an edge to his tone, particularly important for Mozart’s tenor roles. Sophie Bevan, with an appealing stage presence, was Pamina. Some need for greater clarity of diction in the spoken dialogue, not shown on the titles, would give her an excellent mark too. As the queen of the Night Samantha Hay was better in her second act aria, but needs more strength and colour of tone for the fiendish tessitura. Claire Hampton was a vocally and visually appealing mate for Papageno. Of the rest of the cast, Scott Wilde as Sarastro, complete with incongruous white suit and hat, was suitable sonorous whilst Howard Kirk as Monostatos, Ashley Holland as the Speaker and the others kept up the good all round standard. That is not to forget the importance of the Three Ladies and Boys whose tuneful contribution keeps the plot moving in the right direction.
The translation by Jeremy Sams is easy on the ear and, importantly, does not require too much contortion on the part of the singers.
Robert J Farr