Review: The Magic Flute

Joe Richards 11 March 2017

This concert performance of The Magic Flute, given in Trinity Chapel, was always very fine and often excellent. The evening went by briskly thanks to the welcome excision of the dialogue. Although this occasionally threatened to turn it into just a concert rather than a performance of an opera, the dramatic shape of the piece largely held up very well Conductor Edward Reeve drew admirable playing, precise and sensitive, from the Empyrean Ensemble, with tempi on the slow side, although at times the strings were overpowered. There were also a few moments of strain in the brass.

Ensembles held together well and the chorus singing was effective. At its best, the orchestral playing was invigorating and pleasingly nuanced and alive to the score. Any touches of staging tended rather to detract from the performance than otherwise: it seemed strange to send Pamina off to the opposite end of the chapel for ‘Tamino mein, O welch ein Glück’, one of the opera’s most arresting moments. The musical performances were easily capable of holding one’s full attention, and so half-hearted moments of stage business were distracting.

Of the principals, Helena Moore as Pamina was outstanding. Her soprano is full and rich and she made a glowingly beautiful sound. Her stage manner perhaps tended to stolidity but her performance of Pamina’s aria was wondrously touching and unaffected. James Beddoe as Tamino sang sweetly and well, although he seemed a little uncomfortable in the upper range of his voice. As Sarastro, Peter Lidbetter sang sonorously and with great dignity. Stephen Matthews brought humour to the role of Papageno. He was involved well with the text, although at times his singing was slightly too speechy (admittedly in a role which is difficult to really sing through).

Eleanor Burke as the Queen of the Night was most engaged with character and text and acquitted herself well vocally, although some coloratura was smudgy and she struggled with the stratospheric reaches of the role. As the Three Ladies, Sapphire Armitage, Maisie Hulbert and Alice Webster produced a lovely blend of voices. A concert performance makes acting and engagement more difficult, but the performances generally avoided blandness; a little more dynamism, however, might have been welcome. The cast also dealt well with performing in the original German, which was pleasingly comprehensible. This Magic Flute, although sometimes tending to competence, was always at least well performed and had moments of real beauty.