Wednesday 17 January 2018

Review: Opera - The Magic Flute, The Lir Theatre, Dublin

Pat O’Kelly

Mozart's last opera -- The Magic Flute -- is a strange combination of pantomime and Masonic ritual. Good and evil are epitomised through the manipulation of opposing forces, high priest Sarastro against sorceress Queen of the Night.

Opera Theatre Company's current production by Annilese Miskimmon views matters somewhat differently.

In her introduction, she relates it is Sarastro who, having kidnapped the Queen's daughter Pamina, incarcerates her -- allegedly for her own good but guarded by the licentious Monostatos.

Could Sarastro, as Miskimmon suggests, be 'the arch master of spin' in his own male-dominated dominion?

On the other hand, is it not the Queen who sends Prince Tamino the magic flute that guides him through various trials to a loving union with Pamina?

Nicky Shaw's set is suitably economic for the opera's 17-venue tour following its premiere at The Lir.

A school desk and chair; an old horn gramophone; two plain sentry-boxes and a mock proscenium are it.

Costumes imply pre-WWI London -- Monostatos is a Metropolitan bobby while the Three Ladies become 'votes for women' suffragettes, having progressed from vestal virgins.

Initially, the Queen of the Night resembles Cleopatra, but she too undergoes metamorphosis and could be Emmeline Pankhurst by the end!

There are pros and cons about the Lir's performing space. Its compactness generates companionable intimacy, but this proximity, where dynamics tend to register forte, gives the voices unnatural boom.

This is a pity as there are several well-characterised interpretations, not least Owen Gilhooly's excellent Papageno.

Alison Bell showers the Queen of the Night's coloratura fireworks with assured expression, while Matthew Trevino offers sustained vocal dignity as Sarastro.

Although Emma Morwood produces sweeter tone, she and Adrian Dwyer are the well-balanced Pamina and Tamino, while Lawrence Thackery's Monostatos is more affable than menacing.

The Three Ladies, one of whom -- Mary O'Sullivan -- doubles delightfully as Papa-gena, are an energetic trio., From her piano and celesta, Brenda Hurley's musical direction is understanding. She ensures her instrumental quintet, using Cameron Sinclair's cunning reduction of the score, supports the singers' spirited teamwork in this physically energetic and trapdoor-slamming production.

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