The Magic Flute

2012-8-14

Mozart's most popular opera and perhaps even opera's most popular opera.

One of the things that immediately stands out about The Magic Flute is its harsh treatment of women. The Queen of the Night is a power hungry witch, Pamina is always on the verge of getting raped, and the erudites at the Temple of Wisdom are quick to dismiss women as perfidious liars. It's a wonderful example of how enlightenment discourse comes undone when confronted with a different point of view. One which reveals the wise men to be a bunch of sexist idiots. This point of view is of course that of the audience who exploit it for comic effect: we don't believe that the producers and performers are representatives of the patriarchy, they are just going through the motions.

This particular production is having its 25th anniversary, and unfortunately it feels like there is a fair bit of going through the motions in some other aspects of the performance. For example in the opening sequence, Prince Tamino (Shawn Mathey) doesn't seem particularly bothered by the serpent, just too lazy to take it off. The set design also shows its age; it feels a bit spartan when compared with other contemporary productions.

Of course the music is excellent, but none of the singing really stood out as exceptional. There is naturally a bit of trepidation about whether the Queen of the Night will be able to hit all those high notes correctly, and while Kathryn Lewek pulled it off, one got the sense that she wasn't one hundred percent sure she was going to hit them either. Duncan Rock was the best performer, but Papageno is such a charismatic character it's hard to fuck it up. Generally then, it's hard to go too wrong with The Magic Flute, especially after 25 years, but it could do with having a bit more magic put in to it.

The Magic Flute is at the London Coliseum until the 18th of October. It's in English, which it doesn't actually tell you anywhere.


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