Opera North’s the Magic Flute runs like a dream

The Magic Flute in at Leeds Grand Theatre
The Magic Flute in at Leeds Grand Theatre

Director James Brining confronts those who accuse Mozart’s The Magic Flute of having a plot that is frankly bonkers by locating it in the context of a dream.

I was instantly put in mind of Clara’s dream in The Nutcracker. It’s a brave try that does not quite come off.

This new production from Opera North, sung in English, opens in a child’s bedroom with guests gathering for dinner in an adjacent room. The flats that form the bedroom walls are constantly reconfigured to reflect her dreamscape.

In addition, a gauze descends for various projections that add depth and colour to the set, one particularly fascinating effect symbolising Tamino’s trial by water.

The action opens with Tamino, Kang Wang, pursued by a serpent. Its ridiculous size emphasises the departure from realism, as does the serpent’s demise – dispatched by the Queen of the Night’s ladies wielding light sabres.

Wang has a crisp tenor voice that captures the nobility of Tamino.

Enter Papageno, Gavan Ring, a show-stealing role if ever there was one. He gets all the jokes and sings the Bird-Catcher’s folksong-like melody. His theme on the panpipes threads throughout the opera.

South African born Vuvu Mpofu, making her debut at Opera North, has indifferent acting skills by modern standards but, more importantly, deploys her fine soprano voice to very good effect. One felt that she was singing well within her range.

Samantha Hay, as the Queen of the Night, has to contend with one of Mozart’s most demanding, and famous, arias - Hell’s Vengeance. With its trills and runs it demands a coloratura that can maintain notes above high C. She looked every inch a figure of nightmare and sang superbly.

The Magic Flute has a big cast and there is only room here to mention one more player: Opera North favourite, John Savournin. Was it only a few months ago he was a gangster ‘brushing up his Shakespeare’ in Kiss me Kate? Now, completely unrecognisable, acting with great gravitas and deploying the depth and colour of his bass voice as Sarastro, his performance is the embodiment of the word ‘versatile’.

The chorus and orchestra, under the direction of Robert Howarth, delivered their customary excellent support.

There were some niggles. For example, there appeared to be some attempt at sanitising Schikaneder’s original libretto, but this is an engaging evening in the theatre.

I urge you to see it.

The Magic Flute is on at Leeds Grand Theatre on January 26 at 4pm; February 1 and 15, 20, 22 and March 1 at 7pm.

Tickets: 0844 848 2700