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Mozart, The Magic Flute  (Die Zauberflöte) : Heritage Opera, Capesthorne Hall, Nether Alderley, Cheshire, 2.8.2008 (RJW)


Tamino,  Ulises Llorca (ten); Papagena, Samantha Chambers (sop); Pamina, Serenna Wagner (sop); Papageno, Thomas Eaglen (bar); Queen of the Night, Sarah Helsby-Hughes (sop); Sarastro, David Palmer (bar); Monostatos, Adrian Lawson (bar)

Paul Greenhalgh (Keyboard) Directed by Sarah Helsby-Hughes; Produced by Chris Gill

Heritage Opera is a touring group formed in 2006 and based in Lancashire. It is currently playing at historic venues in Lancashire and Cheshire. Run by a musically gifted and passionate team, led by their Producer Chris Gill, they have a soft spot for Mozart, though to be fair their repertoire embraces other classical composers like Tchaikovsky, Puccini and Donizetti. The performance was slickly presented and conveyed The Magic Flute’s convoluted plot with humour and minimal bridging dialogue.

The intimate style of presentation matched the intimate surrounding of the Hall’s charming 160 seat Victorian theatre, built in the 1890s. When the Hall was used as a hospital in the First World War the theatre served to entertain the convalescing army staff and was used by the family to present plays and musical theatre over a number of decades. Heritage Opera has (appropriately) set the opera in the 1920s both in costume and in use of a film sequence. The bustling film actors appropriately preparing a performance accompanied the overture, which was played by a live acoustic 78’s recording on a wind-up gramophone that amply filled the auditorium and added magnificently to the drawing room atmosphere.

The singing throughout was excellent and provided some thrilling moments. Sarah Helsby-Hughes, as a confident high soprano, managed the wide compass needed for The Queen of the Night  without difficulty and amused us with a mock throttling of her daughter, Pamina.  Pamina likewise had a commanding stage presence though clarity of diction did not always reach all ears. The three Spirits, angelically white, had superb balance and harmonised well. Of the men, the rich resonant sounding bass-baritone David Palmer provided an authoritative air and managed some difficult low notes without loss of volume. Central to the success of the performance was Thomas
Eaglen’s Papageno. His charm and excellent stage presence, coupled with his delightfully warm-toned baritone voice was a pleasure to listen to. Good support came from Ulises Llorca, Samantha Chambers and Adrian Lawson.

Chris Gill took the music at an appropriately brisk pace and conducted the cast with verve: they responded with dynamic enthusiasm. The costumes by Sarah Helbsy-Hughes, who also directed, were excellent and added to the colour of the setting. Much attention to detail was given to the properties such as Papageno’s imitation birds that looked real enough to fly off. The trial by fire and water scene was ingeniously represented by video footage of erupting volcanoes and marine underwater shots superimposed on the singers. The volcano sequence might have been better had jump-cut shots been replaced by lap dissolves used for the underwater shots however.

Paul Greenhalgh, an experienced repetiteur, played the keyboard skilfully, and provided an important extra dimension with authentic bell and flute stops. The fairy tale content of The Flute gave plenty of scope for activity and Northern shenanigans, worked into the cast’s action with great skill. They set out to amuse their audience and as a result gave us an excellent evening’s entertainment.

A note should be said about the Heritage Opera programme. This gives one of the most succinctly written synopses I have ever read and the pages are nicely presented with silhouettes of images from the opera. I wish Heritage Opera well, and on this reckoning will enjoy future productions, regardless of the works or unknown composers chosen.

Raymond J Walker


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