Can there be better credentials for directing Mozart's opera than having played both its composer and librettist? Simon Callow is a man of many trades, but his thoughtful staging seemed to bear that theory out. Designed by Tom Phillips with a painterly eye for zestful colour, this is Opera Holland Park at its most resourceful. Granted, the singing is often more about promise than fulfilment, and losing one's Papageno on opening night must have been unsettling (bird flu?), but honesty, good sense and a ready wit are prime attributes for any Magic Flute. When the Three Ladies arrived to deliver Tamino from the humanoid serpent, their 1940s haute-couture set the tone. Could this be the first Magic Flute in which the serpent has been dispatched with lethal-looking hatpins?
It has to be the first in which the Queen of the Night has been modelled on Joan Crawford. In Michael Geliot's alternately witty and childish translation, Pamina's pining for "mummy" is only a whisker away from "mommie dearest". Penelope Randall-Davis is well-practised in her two show-stopping arias, though the woolliness of her sound in all but the ear-popping money notes suggests that they could soon be all she's left with. Still, it's good to hear a biggish voice in the role, and she certainly delivered. Fflur Wyn, as Pamina, exuded sincerity, but sincerity doesn't get you around Mozart's curvaceous vocal lines, and this is a voice that loses interest below the topmost register.
"I know just what a peacock likes," sang Papageno, knowing that this is just the place to find them. Replacement Jonathan Gunthorpe had to compete with them, of course, and nuancing dialogue in a venue like this is easier said than done. But he slipped effortlessly into the informality of the role and I liked his rough-and-ready matter-of-factness.
Callow's decision to take the original stage direction "in Japanese hunting costume" and turn Tamino (the vocally lusty but musically rather square Andrew Staples) into a fully fledged prince of Japan (as opposed to Egypt) sat well with the ancient, highly ritualised elements of the piece. More's the pity, then, that Tim Mirfin's fuzzily sung Sarastro brought little promise of enlightenment. That fell to Jane Glover, whose conducting was a model of sound musicality and unbridled enthusiasm.
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