White Rock Theatre, Hastings, Saturday 8th April 2017
The Magic Flute is a disarmingly complex work. A fairy-story with wicked queens, pure princesses and evil Moors is under-pinned by a rationalist attack on superstition which is itself uncomfortably allied to misogyny and racism. That Fraser Grant chose to highlight the fantastic elements made sense, even if it skated over the deeper moments rather too easily. His production is set in a school, where the students are surrounded by gigantic alphabet blocks. It is a well-focused approach, and his use of immaculately drilled school children to move the blocks around is very impressive.
Characterisation is kept simplistic, allowing the narrative to unfold without asking too many difficult questions. In this James Williams’ gentle bird catcher is particularly effective and his final duet with an equally appealing Papagena from Marina Ivanova, is one of the highlights of the evening.
Mark Bonney’ school boy Tamino sings the arias with aplomb but never quite convinces us he is the hero of the piece. Thankfully his future is obviously in safe hands given the forthright and beautifully sung Pamina from Lucy Ashton who will guide him in future – just one of the ironies when the work is so strongly anti-feminist.
Fae Evelyn has the coloratura for the Queen of the Night but is given little to do other than sweep on and off majestically. Jeremy Vinogradov’s incisive Monostatos is turned into a black rat which works well for much of the time even if it waters down the real sense of menace.
The most challenging change in presentation is that of Sarastro who is presented as a mad scientist. That he is a scientist fits with the Enlightenment approach to reason, but that he is verging on the insane seems to tip him over into the other camp. Toby Sims sings with conviction but it was difficult to fit the noble outpourings to O Isis und Osiris within a Rocky Horror laboratory.
The orchestra provided well balanced accompaniment throughout with some fine individual solo playing. Kenneth Roberts kept tempi brisk and light, in keeping with the production itself.
It was very pleasing to see the White Rock comfortably full, though we are all too aware that no opera performance today can rely solely on its income from the audience, which makes the roll of benefactors all the more important.