Tuesday 25 June 2019

The Magic Flute at the Gaiety: A joy from start to finish

The Magic Flute

Gaiety, Dublin

Midsummer

Project Arts Centre, Dublin

Anna Devin as Pamina and Lukas Jakobski as Lord Sarastro in INO's The Magic Flute
Anna Devin as Pamina and Lukas Jakobski as Lord Sarastro in INO's The Magic Flute

Emer O'Kelly

Diverse tales are united by the search for love.

Director Caroline Staunton apparently set out deliberately to impose Irish resonances on her production of Mozart's The Magic Flute for Irish National Opera at the Gaiety in Dublin. She's entitled to her choices, but this reviewer would be inclined to choke on the idea of Prince Tamino as a Christy Mahon figure, along with other supposed Synge analogies.

But Ciaran Bagnall's set and lighting combine with Katie Davenport's high Victorian costumes to create an impression of a leisured Irish country house rather than a Masonic temple, and that effect does work absolutely effectively.

Staunton has also played down to the point of insignificance the dominant theme of Mozart's not-so gentle satire on Freemasonry and the triumph of Enlightenment values of reason and freedom over the tyranny of superstition - perhaps just as well, because the notion of apron-wearing Masons with their trousers rolled up among the fisherfolk of our western isles is fairly hysteria-inducing.

Otherwise, the production is a joy from start to finish, lavish, elegant, full of sly spirit and yearning passion, and quite splendidly cast, mostly with Irish singers.

Latter day feminism is encouraged to sneer at the patriarchal implication of Lord Sarastro kidnapping the innocent Pamina to ensure her safety from the wiles of her mother the Queen of the Night, while he promotes a future for her in the indulgent husbandly care of his protege Prince Tamino.

Musically and dramatically, the production could hardly be bettered, with the Irish Chamber Orchestra under Peter Whelan's expertise delivering superbly.

Gavan Ring's Papageno was deservedly the hit of the night, while the towering (in every sense) Lukas Jakobski's bass was one of the most "fitting" things I've ever seen on the opera stage as Sarastro.

Anna Devin combined spirit and terror in equal measure as Pamina, with Audrey Luna's Queen of the Night delivering a glorious vocal range. Nick Pritchard was reliably lyrical as Tamino, while Amy Ni Fhearraigh made a deliciously coquettish Papagena.

Andrew Gavin's tenor was somewhat subdued as Monostatos, and he could also have done with projecting rather more nastiness, but that may have been the director's aim of breaking with stereotype (the slave as villain).

*******

Hormones trump all; and if you don't believe it, see Midsummer, a play about unlikely love in a time of rotten midsummer weather.

David Greig and Gordon McIntyre's mini love song to their native city Edinburgh (2008) was given an expanded production at last year's Edinburgh Festival. But Eoin Kilkenny has chosen to produce the more or less original version at Project in Dublin, and it has all the Irish resonances you'd want (foul language and dire hangovers) under Eoghan Carrick's energetic direction.

A Friday night pick-up between Helena, a divorce lawyer, and Bob, a second hand car salesman, doesn't sound as though it's made in heaven. But it is, through a riotous drunken weekend of wedding wrecking, weird sessions in bondage clubs, and a bag stuffed with someone else's money that funds the booze and pristine hotel beds.

And Bob and Helena, who have pledged they will never see each other again, find that the "ol'debbil sex" can change a lot of things.

Roseanna Purcell and Aidan Crowe deliver raucously; but they don't forget the wistful underlay to Greig's text and McIntyre's songs.

The lost weekend has been done before a million times. But when it's good, it's really good. And Midsummer is really good.

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