Die Zauberflöte , ENO

I felt ambivalent about this production of The Magic
time around
; it was certainly an improvement upon its
, but other than that, I was somewhat lukewarm. At the time,
I welcomed its emphasis upon theatricality and the workings of that
theatricality, whilst wondering whether a little less might have been more.
That I still feel; it is not clear to me what is contributed by the writing
of ‘The Magic Flute’ on a screen during the Overture, save,
alas, for permitting noisy sections of the audience to laugh uproariously.
If they find that — and, it would seem, pretty much anything —
so utterly hilarious and/or conducive to loud discussion, then I might
suggest that they seek help; the rest of us certainly needed help at times
in order to hear the performance.

Whether the rest had been toned down a little, I am not sure; maybe I
was just feeling less curmudgeonly, in which case I owe Simon McBurney and
Complicité something of an apology; I certainly enjoyed the production
more than I had last time. The sound booths, in which we see and hear the
making or an impression of making of sound ‘effects’ is very
Complicité, of course, and I suspect that some opera-goers loved it
because it was new to them. I still wish that something more were actually
done with these aspects of the production, that there were more
interrogation of the work and what it might mean; yet, by the same token,
there is an openness to interpretation that should not necessarily be
confused with non-interpretation. There was, I thought or at least felt, a
stronger sense of magic this time; whether that were a product of the
production’s touring in the meantime, or of greater responsivity on
my part, I am genuinely not sure. Stephen Jeffreys’s translation is
exemplary; if one is going to perform the work in English, a witty yet
serious approach such as this is unquestionably the way to go. It enables
one to approach the heart of the work rather than shouting ‘look at

For me, however, the strongest reasons to enthuse were musical. Mark
Wigglesworth led an excellent account of the score. No, of course it was
not Colin Davis; but we do not need to hear unconvincing imitation of past
glories. Wigglesworth’s tempi tended to be swifter, although not
unreasonably so; crucially, there was no sense of harrying the score, of
preventing it from breathing. There was no absurd rushing through
‘Ach, ich fühl’s’, nor indeed through any of the
most tender moments. Moreover, the ENO Orchestra and Chorus, fighting back
again where it matters most strongly, were on excellent form throughout.
Orchestral light and shade was present in abundance, even if I did not
especially care for the use of natural trumpets. (That seems to be the
latest fashion with modern orchestras, a fashion I confess to finding
incomprehensible, when modern instruments are otherwise used.) The chorus,

presently under threat from management cuts
, showed incontrovertibly
why it deserves our fullest support, its members as convincing individually
as they were corporately.

Allan Clayton offered a fine vocal performance as Tamino, although I
think the production might have made him a little more princely. Ardent and
lyrical, he was a worthy successor to Ben Johnson. Lucy Crowe’s
Pamina was as touching as one could hope for, musical and dramatic
qualities as one; hers was a performance that would grace any stage. James
Creswell’s Sarastro was unusually light of tone; there were times
when I hankered after something darker, more traditionally Germanic, but on
its own terms, this was an intelligent portrayal, with considerable stage
presence. Ambur Braid may not have hit every note perfectly as the Queen of
the Night — who does, at least on stage? — but hers was a
committed, unusually human performance; I hope that we shall see and hear
more from her. Peter Coleman-Wright’s Papageno confounded
expectations. Here we had a highly convincing portrayal of a bird-catcher
left on the shelf, the sadness arising from society’s contempt for
the ageing as much as his usual predicament. (It seems a perfectly
reasonable reappraisal in a work much preoccupied with age, which really
had me thinking.) John Graham-Hall’s Cockney Monostatos showed what a
truly versatile artist this is; it is only a few months ago that I saw him
Schoenberg’s Aron in Paris
. All of the smaller roles were taken
well, showing once again how crucial a sense of company is to performance;
if only ENO’s management would watch and listen.

Mark Berry

Cast and production information:

Tamino: Allan Clayton; Papageno: Peter Coleman-Wright; Queen of the
Night: Ambur Braid; Monostatos: John Graham-Hall; Pamina: Lucy Crowe;
Speaker: Darren Jeffery; Sarastro: James Creswell; Papagena: Soraya Mafi;
Two Priests, Two Armoured Men: Rupert Charlesworth, Frederick Long; Three
Ladies: Eleanor Dennis, Catherine Young, Rachael Lloyd; Three Boys: Anton
May, Yohan Rodas, Oscar Simms; Director: Simon McBurney; Revival Director,
Movement: Josie Daxter; Set Designs: Michael Levine; Costumes: Nicky
Gillibrand; Lighting: Jean Kalman, Mike Gunning; Video: Finn Ross; Sound
design: Gareth Fry, Matthieu Maurice. Chorus of the English National Opera
(chorus master: Stephen Harris); Orchestra of the English National
Opera/Mark Wigglesworth (conductor). The Coliseum, London, Friday 5
February 2016.

product_title=Die Zauberflöte , ENO
product_by=A review by Mark Berry