MUSIC / Tall stories: Raymond Monelle reviews Scottish Opera's revival of The Magic Flute

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The Independent Culture
Anyone who thinks that Sarastro is a wise old man, Tamino a heroic young prince, Pamina an ardent and tragic girl and The Magic Flute a series of spacious arias had better not see the revival of Martin Duncan's production for Scottish Opera.

For this was a tale of two good-natured teenagers who fall in with a taciturn young man, who dominates them chiefly by virtue of being taller. The queer story jostled forward with much nervous energy but little gravitas, propelled by Nicholas McGegan's over-optimistic tempos which produced orchestral jitters in the overture and had the voices falling over each other.

Yet this striking production, much praised when first seen in 1992, retained some of its force. This was due to its inherent merits - clever symbolism, with yellow for the male principal, purple for the female, and Post-Modern scenery full of eyes and masks - but also to the fact that its cast had many excellent qualities quite apart from their actual roles. Perhaps this is the most Post-Modern thing you can do: perform The Magic Flute with the cast of Figaro.

Notably, Anne Dawson's Pamina was the complete Susanna, charming, witty, with a voice that glowed warmly in the mid-register and gathered brightness above. Here was a soubrette waiting to happen, but as Pamina she seemed a clever, pretty, extremely young upper-class girl out of The Railway Children, perhaps. Her Tamino, Iain Paton, was Scottish Opera's Janek in The Makropulos Case, a role in which he mainly had to look gormless - something he seems particularly good at. Paton's voice is in the lieder category, light, dry, a bit tense, and utterly unheroic. But he makes up for it with a quiet flair for feeling his way into a phrase.

Sarastro, Carsten Stabell, was hampered by speeds that threatened to turn his numbers into patter songs and immobility. George Mosley, too, was disadvantaged in his portrayal of Papageno by Simon Keenlyside's version of 1992. Keenlyside created a wholly new vision of the part, based on a study of bird movements. Mosley reverted to the accepted view of Papageno as a clown with a regional accent. A few bird movements survived in Ann Archibald's delightful Papagena, and Jennifer Rhys-Davies's accurate, electric Queen of the Night remained from the original cast.

But, in all, this was a comic and diminutive Flute rather than a grand or noble one, not only because of the protagonists' small stature, but also because of a fence of nervous hurry, a rhythmic tightness that made the opera seem short. Perhaps McGegan had an early train to catch.

In rep at Glasgow's Theatre Royal (041-332 9000), then tours