I don't think I've ever seen a performance of this or anything else
with all the singing in the original language and all the dialogue in
the vernacular, as advocated by Pierre Bellemare a couple of
weeks ago in these parts. It worked quite well, rather to my
surprise (the dialogue was cut, as usual). Nor have I ever seen a
ZAUBERFLÖTE in which the last of the solo curtain-calls was
taken by the Papageno. Furthermore, anyone who can get to the
Buxton Opera House on 7 or 8 April can see this opera (in this
production) "as it has never been heard before" - accompanied by
Tamino: John Christodoulou
Pamina: Charlotte Ellett
Sarastro: Mark Ashmore
Queen of the Night: Rachel Luxon
Papageno: Toby Stafford-Allen
Monostatos: Mark Kandall
Speaker: Darren Jeffrey
Papagena: Lucy Bates
Three Ladies: Anthea Kempston, Imogen Garner and a substitute
3rd Lady whose name I've lost
Director: Stefan Janski
Designer: Christopher Woods
Lighting: Philip L Edwards
Royal Northern College Chorus and Orchestra
Conductor: Timothy Reynish
I enjoy my trips to the RNCM for three reasons: the theatre is
comfortable, their productions are usually good, and it's nice to try
one's hand at talent-spotting.
On the latter subject, the programme always carries a "where are
they now?" section, and this time it shows that former students
can be found currently at Opera North, WNO, Scottish Opera,
Montreal, Geneva (Keenlyside), ENO (Banks), Bologna, Vienna
Volksoper, NYCO (Rojas), Munich (Rodgers, Roocroft, Nilon), the
Bastille (Daszak), the Berlin Staatsoper (Fulgoni) and - yes! - the
Met (Eaglen, Caproni).
This time, the stand-out voice was indeed that of Stafford-Allen as
Papageno, though I still think that giving him the final curtain-call
was a bit weird. He has a rich, easily-produced voice and doesn't
overdo the comedy, but the part is a gift, of course. I'd certainly
like to see him as Guglielmo, a part he's covering at this year's
I was also impressed by Ellett, who put real feeling into "Ach, ich
fuehl's", a number which I usually find rather boring, Ashmore, who
had the presence and the low notes for Sarastro, and Jeffrey, an
imposing Speaker (though he did give the impression of being John
Cleese costumed as Pooh-Bah).
Modified rapture for Christodoulou, whose voice seemed alternately
too big (middle register) and too small (upper register) for Tamino,
though he cut a dignified figure and sounded fine in ensembles.
Also for Luxon (daughter of Benjamin, whose birthday it was). The
conductor kindly slowed the "Du, du, du" cabaletta section of her
first aria right down, but she still gargled the coloratura. "Die
Hoelle Rache" was pretty good, however, and the voice wasn't too
thin, so overall a plus.
Kendall's caricature Monostatos, costumed as a Demon King with
scissor-hands, and Bates's agreeable Papagena provided good
support. The Ladies weren't quite on the same plane (though they
did well by their rarely-performed cadenza in their opening trio), but
the Boys sounded good in their admittedly much easier music.
I've liked Timothy Reynish's conducting in the past, but here he
often seemed to be hurrying the singers (when not slowing down,
as noted above). There were also a number of fluffs in the
orchestra Things did seem to get better as they went on, however.
The production and designs were, on the whole, enjoyable.
Egyptian costume prevailed, at least for the men, and triangles and
pyramids were much in evidence, including the glowing pyramidal
night-lights held by the Act 2 priests, as in the Hockney staging
(was it?). The serpent at the beginning was, however, rather
perfunctory, as were the animals attracted by Tamino's flute.
The three doorways among which Tamino has to choose were not
differentiated, and indeed looked like lift entrances in a hotel lobby.
This piece of scenery reappeared during Act 2 for no obvious
reason. In front of it was the only trap-door on stage, and it was
easy to see singers making for it when it was their turn to vanish.
The three Boys appeared every time in an attractive Egyptian-style
boat which descended from the flies.
There are a couple more performances this week. Meanwhile, I
shall be returning to Manchester to see Mark-Antony Turnage's
Andrew Cooper ([log in to unmask])