THE MAGIC FLUTE ENGLISH NATIONAL OPERA, London Coliseum 29 January 2000
Similarities between Tito and the Flute there might be, though there couldn't be a much greater contrast than between the Royal Opera's arch, bought-in, European arthouse staging of Tito and ENO's hearty and rustic view of the Flute, in Jeremy Sams's upbeat English translation, which from curtain-up to curtain-down presents a scenario in which what you see is exactly what you get.
Stripping away as many potential layers of Masonic symbolism as he can, Hytner's approach is to go for comedy and colour in equal measure, with the overall strategy of presenting a straightforward morality tale in which everything comes right in the end. As it does in the opera, one might say, but only after a fair amount of soul-searching along the way. In the programme booklet an essay points out the influence of the Flute on Wagner's Parsifal. There's not much inkling of late Wagnerian mystery or mysticism here though, with the dry-ice machine very much firmly locked away in the broom cupboard. Not that there are no reflective moments at all in evidence; rather, the balance is very much firmly titled at the spirit of pantomime.
And a largely youthful and energetic cast does its utmost to animate that atmosphere. Leigh Melrose is an impressive and highly engaging Birdman (though why that character should sing and speak in two very different accents always amazes me). Barry Banks gives a more than laudable account of Tamino too, with a rich and bright tone. Susan Gritton is on stunning form as Pamina, with a real sense of the part's contours and a translucent register. Add old hand at the role by now, Cyndia Sieden's thrilling Queen of Night and, at the opposite end of the clef, the firm bass of Andrew Greenan's Sarastro for yet more consummate artistry. Hamming it up to the eyeballs, the lanky figure of John Graham-Hall as Monostatos also does his best to steal the show. Though there are no genuine divas in evidence at the Colly: as so often recently, ENO once again produces a consistently strong company effort, with all roles wonderfully enunciated and played out into the heart of the auditorium. Making his Coliseum debut, conductor Grant Llewellyn in the pit also stamps his authority on the score: the sound is lavish and spacious, with the clarity of vocals on stage matched by a peerless instrumental ensemble. And when Mozart's orchestra knocks masonically, Llewellyn has the grace to wait for a reply before proceeding. An enthusiastic first-night audience rightly lapped it all up so, with music-making of this calibre to support it, no wonder they keep bringing this Flute back.
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