Mozart “The Magic Flute”, Garsington Opera at Wormsley

Posted on June 3rd, 2011

The sun really smiled on the opening of Garsington Opera’s handsome new summer pavilion at the Getty’s Wormsley estate – but in doing so it rather turned Mozart’s Magic Flute on its head flooding light and enlightenment somewhat prematurely over the Queen of the Night’s dominions. The new dawn arrived here with the rising of the moon and that was not all that proved topsy-turvy about Olivia Fuchs’ inaugural staging.

As Robert Murray’s very contemporary Tamino staggered into the opening scene a little the worse for wear from a long night’s partying, the wacky-baccy had clearly induced hallucinations that might have surprised even Mozart’s librettist Emanuel Schikaneder. What was with all the umbrellas – enough of them to shame an English summer (now that’s tempting providence) and a terrible cliché to boot? Busby Berkeley has a lot to answer for.

Papageno had been at the wacky-baccy, too, but then he was done out like a kilted punk, his arrival by bicycle hotly pursued by Japanese flying birds (and the vigorous chorusing of the feathered community in the adjoining gardens) the one moment of real charm in a show that made such heavy-weather of the pantomime humour. The Mohican “plumage” was a neat touch, too, but William Berger, playing the role, needed a lighter touch with Jeremy Sams’ slightly tired English translation – the laughs were ill-timed and too few. Turning Monostatos’ henchmen into a leather-kilted corps de ballet with his magic bells (a Roberts retro-radio, naturally) amounted to the best of them.

The evening felt slow and heavy with the show’s various components failing to coalesce into anything truly satisfying or meaningful. Fuchs is a better director than this. Why did the Queen of the Night look like a trapeze artist? Why did she smoke? No wonder Kim Sheehan dropped two of her high Fs, both in the same place. A pity – she didn’t fudge her coloratura and delivered a hefty money-note in that same aria.

Speaking of money-notes, the absence of a low F from Evan Boyer’s uncommonly young, well-scrubbed, and less than authoritative Sarastro (a touch of the Harikrishnas about his sect) would have been less noticeable had the legato singing been more grateful and unimpeded by his somewhat intrusive flutter. No such impediment with Sophie Bevan’s gloriously open and generously voiced Pamina. Hers were the evening’s only special moments. The place is magical, the show, alas, was not.

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