Review: The Magic Flute

30 October 2013

As the oldest playhouse in Cambridge, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the ADC theatre is open to taking risks. And fielding an all-student cast in an English adaptation of Mozart’s renowned Magic Flute is a bold move that, I’m willing to say, paid off.

Known for its enchanting blend of music, storytelling and true love, The Magic Flute was the last of the 22 operas and operettas Mozart wrote and produced during his all-too-short lifetime. Legend has it that he loved the piece so much that he attended almost every performance before his death.

In the Magic Flute, our hero Tamino, aided by the bird-catcher Papageno, set out guided by a magic flute, to rescue beautiful Pamina, the daughter of the Queen of the Night. Their mission takes a sharp turn when Tamino discovers that all may not be as it seems, and falls in love with Papina. The lovers (and poor Papa Gino) then face a series of tests and trials.

As many of you may know, the ADC has a smaller-than-ideal stage and orchestra pit for staging a production the size of this, forcing the need for creativity in the hands of the director (Robert Hawkin).  At first disconcerting, locations are defined through costume – ancient Greek for the Queen, her ladies, the guides and Sarastro; mid-19th century for most of the others. Ish. (The orchestra, we assume, is just wearing black. Jeans, if they can get away with it, if they are anything like the reviewer.) With barely fifteen members in the orchestra, the keyboard carries some pretty heavy weight, as does the flautist (who plays three instruments), but both do their job admirably.

            A ‘mature’ opera voice usually happens at about 30 – and The Magic Flute was written for some of the strongest singers of the time, not for promising singers at the beginning of their careers. Sometimes a singer fell short of a note or two, but with this in mind, it’s fair to point out that with the age of the cast, they performed admirably. Tamino, our hero, is a solid tenor, and a tip of the hat must be given to Emma Simmons (Third Lady of the NIght) for her clear vibrant tone and excellent expression.

            As is so often the case with The Magic Flute, Papageno – and eventually his love Papagina—steals the show. There is not one second on stage that Johnny Hyde is not engaged, completely in character and charming. Representing the everyman/woman in all of us, his energy imbues each scene he plays in with a sense of mischief that is contagious to the audience. Sophie Horrocks as Papagina only adds to the fun. And mention must be given to Xavier Hetherington’s Monostatos. Creepy. Just creepy – as he should be.

Despite losing some of its emotional steam in the second half, the momentum picks back up again when Papageno and Papagena find one another, and that energy pulls it on strong to the end. The performance is well worth seeing. Plus, it’s family friendly – and I can pretty much promise that you’ll walk out with a smile on your face. I went straight home and immediately logged into YouTube to listen to Diana Damrau’s performance as Queen of the Night. Because I just couldn’t get enough.