Review: The Magic Flute, Opera North, Leeds Grand Theatre, Saturday, January 19, 2019

OPERA North’s new realisation of Mozart’s Singspiel undoubtedly meets the company’s promise of a feast for the eyes - and the ears. Scenic transformations are effortlessly achieved by proscenium-height screens that move as if by magic to form enchanting forests with picture book trees which appear from on high, or splendid Halls topped with sparkling chandeliers. Chris Davey’s Imaginative lighting and Douglas O’Connell’s video designs foster an illusion of the supernatural.

But production director James Brining, artistic director of Leeds Playhouse, over-eggs the pudding with his staging of the Overture as a prologue in which the ensuing action is, apparently, the product of a little girl’s vivid imagination. And why spoil the Orchestra of Opera North’s sizzling account of the overture by having Sarastro, head of the mysterious masonic brotherhood, loudly repeating the grace line “for what we are about to receive” to his dinner guests.

A meticulously drilled cast, on the whole, compensates for any inconsistencies and their projection of the spoken dialogue is crystal clear. Gavan Ring’s animated and beautifully sung Pagageno infuses his speech with a charming Irish lilt and just a touch of Irish logic. Pagageno is the polar opposite of Chinese tenor Kang Wang’s sumptuous-toned Prince Tamino in the exacting “trials” set for the pair by the Brotherhood. Wang’s Tamino is well matched by the timbral qualities of South African soprano Vuvu Mpofo as an appealing Pamina. Samantha Hay relishes the stratospheric vocal challenge of the Queen of the Night. Bass John Savournin, singing four octaves below Hay, conveys Sarastro’s sinister undertones.

The astonishingly rich variety of Mozart’s music, composed mainly during the May and June of 1791, ranges from noble chorales to folksy ditties and from slapstick comedy to vocal pyrotechnics. Early and classical music specialist Robert Howarth’s forward propulsion of the score draws wonderfully crisp and stylish playing from the ever versatile Orchestra of Opera North.

Further performances at Leeds Grand Theatre on January 26th, February 1st, 15th, 20th and 22 and March 1.

Geoffrey Mogridge