Review: The Magic Flute

Jessica Harris watches a Welsh National Opera production at Birmingham Hippodrome.

Radical and contemporary in style, this production of The Magic Flute by the Welsh National Opera is not for the faint hearted. But if making opera accessible to new audiences is important, then all credit to WNO for pushing the boat out, and for pushing it out a long way. And possibly Mozart, who had popular appeal in mind when he wrote it, would have approved.

The staging of the production is given over to helping us engage with the opera’s inquiry into the dichotomy between passion and truth, love and enlightenment. It is located in a futuristic setting, where day-glow orbs held aloft by performers signify that we are entering a world where fable abounds and magic prevails. Rainbow coloured birds fly on wires or perch on shoulders, signifying the love of nature and freedom of the imagination associated with the Realm of Night-time. Meanwhile, sci-fi costumes and the large golden orb held by King of the Sun indicate the logic and rationality of thought which prevail in the Realm of Daytime.

Whilst the quests of Tamino, Prince of Sleep, and Pamina, daughter of the Queen of the Night, and the conflict between the Queen herself and Sarastro, the Sun King, are in keeping with Mozart’s original opera, much of the libretto has been reworked to incorporate the language of today. Slang and popular catch-phrases run throughout the spoken text, adding to the production’s humour and accessibility. Along with the updates to language, contemporary sensibilities are referenced: at the outset of Tamino’s quest to rescue Pamina, kidnapped by Sarastro, Papageno, the bird-catcher, comments, “This prince should check his privilege.”

But if style and language have been over-hauled, Welsh National Opera’s rendition of Mozart’s music is first class. The opera’s best known aria, Der Hölle Rache, sung by soprano Samantha Hay as Queen of the Night, is performed with resonance and control. Delivered in a ring of lights on a platform high above the stage, the effect is passionate and dramatic.

Pamina’s aria, Ach, ich fuhl’s, sung by soprano Raven McMillon, is performed with captivating emotional intensity, whilst her duets and trios with Tamino, sung by tenor Trystan Llŷr Griffiths, and Papageno, sung by baritone Quirijn De Lang, are also highly moving. The deep and resonant bass of Jonathan Lemalu, as Sarastro, is a joy to listen to.

Choral delivery also stands out, as do the performances of the ladies-in-waiting, sung by Nazan Fikret, Kezia Bienek and Claire Barnett-Jones, their performances delivered with flirtatious charm and warmth.

Whilst the production sometimes slips into pantomime, not helped by over-much spoken text in the second act, the clarity with which it depicts the problems which stem from separating our world into binary realms and the pressure on people to reside in one or the other, is clear. The theme of being able to be oneself and to find a sense of belonging shines through.

The final scene, sung by the full chorus, presents a multi-coloured array of people and life-styles. Embracing the qualities of both night and day, it underscores the value of coupling emotional depth and enlightened thinking. Whilst this production is not for all tastes, it is one which remains in the mind for its vivacity, its boldness and for the quality of its music.

The Magic Flute is on tour nationally. Further information can be found at

Pics – Craig Fuller.