Donald Cooper

Simon McBurney’s production of Mozart’s timeless classic has opened at London’s Coliseum, conducted by Ben Gernon.

ENO’s new production of The Magic Flute feels like a surprisingly contemporary and immersive experience. Throwing a whole host of operatic conventions out of the window, here the performers directly address the audience, the large cast overspills into the auditorium, there is live-action projection throughout, and a transparent pantry plays home to a Foley artist and is the source of an array of amusing diegetic sounds. The set itself is quite bare, save for a floating platform which tilts in different directions to create numerous spaces, but the stage is brought to life with a variety of visual trickery and regularly filled with dozens of performers.

In a nutshell, The Magic Flute tells of the adventures of Prince Tamino and the bird-catcher Papageno on their quest to rescue Pamina. The pair are given musical instruments with magical powers to assist them on their quest, which they use to overcome the trials placed in their path towards a deeper understanding of true love and happiness.

It probably goes without saying, but for those who have never seen the ENO perform in the Coliseum, it’s really quite a remarkable experience. The vast venue is utterly stunning and a sight to behold in its own right, while the quality of the musicianship is absolutely top-notch.

Julia Bauer’s controlled performance of the Queen of the Night aria is breathtaking, while Lucy Crowe as her daughter also sings gloriously. Thomas Oliemans, as Papageno, sometimes came over a little too try-hard and not every joke landed, but we still warmed to him over the course of the performance. At various junctures the staging is enriched by a troupe of actors from the Complicité company, creating flocks of birds from sheets of paper. Given how unusually minimalist the set was for this venue, we were impressed by the fullness of the action on stage.

There’s a lot here to enjoy. Purists may not be thrilled by the constant use of technology or the discarding of many operatic conventions, but we thoroughly enjoyed this entertainingly-acted and musically impressive revival.

Gay Times gives The Magic Flute – ★★★★

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