Thursday, 27 November 2014

Royal College of Music: Mozart's Die Zauberflöte/The Magic Flute (RCMIOS) ***


Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) is an opera journey about two lovers and their mystical struggle to be together with numerous fantasia-esque characters who help them, while others obstruct them, on their way. It is one of the few operas that is performed just before (and during) the festive season as it encapsulates prevalent fantasy and mystical themes. Some would content that this derived from Mozart’s personal engagement with the freemasonry; yet the opera’s significance is not simply due to its mysticism or status as Mozart’s penultimate operatic work but from its stunning and uniquely written musical composition which evoke the musical wizardry and emotions that produced the splendour of Mozart's overture in The Marriage of Figaro (and possibly Così fan tutte.) 
The Royal College of Music International Opera School (RCMIOS) is currently performing Die Zauberflöte under the directorship of Jean-Claude Auvay at the Britten Theatre. This opera production is one of the many opportunities to showcase the school's new and fresh talent. Some of the biggest names in opera trained at RCMIOS including Dame Joan Sutherland, Sarah Connolly and Gerald Finley. Elizabeth Watts, Alfie Boe and Sophie Bevan also made their mark through the opera school. Maestro Michael Rosewell, director of opera at the RCM, had the RCM Opera Orchestra at the helm. He embraces the natural and earthy hues of Mozart’s masterpiece and allowed the exuberant overture to flourish with heavy double basses, abrasive cellos and lusciously played oboes, reminding the audience that life is sweet, just like the opera’s endings.
Galina Averina as Pamina (Photograph from stjohns-hydepark)
As the opera begins, the audience watch how Sarastro's masked men kidnap innocent Pamina (Galina Averina). We are then left guessing what a projected image of cartoon furniture has to do with a magic flute; yet this is quickly swiped under the carpet as Tamino (Gyula Rab) attempts to spiral his way out from being attacked by a giant snake, which we unfortunately never see.
A toy snake however is bragged about by our deviant three ladies lavishly sung by Natasha Day, Rose Setten and Amy Williamson. They are presented as purple dressed fashionistas and practice some saucy acts on unconscious Tamino.
Tamino sung by Gyula Rab - (Photograph from fidelio.hu)
Our comic relief and lonely Papageno was sung by the talented Timonthy Nelson. Both him and Rab made the songspiel feature of the opera amusing through their clear Germanic diction. Our Queen of the Night was sung by Marie Jaermann and, during the evening, it seemed as if she had sung the role several times before. She gave the patient audience what they wanted to hear in "Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen" but also showed hints of humility in her vocal agility as well.
Our three child spirits (Louise Fuller, Katie Coventry, Polly Leach) complimented the opera's share of fun and games. Their synchronised vocals paid off and heightened their spiritual and harmonious characterisations. Simon Shibambu sung as an authoritative Saratsto with his corporate suits working below him; yet I would have liked to have heard more of his voice as there were moments when there wasn't enough zeal to convey the paternal side of Sarastro.
Pamina, sung by Averina, was the most taut, sorrowful and beguiling particularly when she sung "Ach, ich fühl's, es ist verschwunden" in the final scenes. And Gyula Rab sung as the bounty tenor visually matching Pamina on stage, but lacked a tiny spark of pathos. Still, a decently sung Tamino.
Timonthy Nelson - (Photograph from Oxford Leider website)
In Act 2 scene 7, when the elements scene takes hold, neon lights with the words ‘wasser’ in blue and ‘fueue’ in red manage to impress the audience, but only for a few moments. The overall stage was designed by Ruari Murchison, which is a mix of semi-stage with a large folded and concealed room at its centre. Often the cast were left having to pull and push open the doors for the room which seemed like a physical hassle, but once these doors were open the wonder was demystified; this is due to Mark Doubleday’s own lighting techniques.
The production's ending is slightly unexpected and ambiguous. Both Tamino and Pamina are romantically united but dressed in suits with a book (they reveal) as if they had just published it, or as proof they had triumphantly graduated from a business school, perhaps. Audiences will interpret this to mean many things. One of these ideas could be the success after a hard journey, whether personal or profession; it’s all driven by passion; an inherent notion Mozart undoubtedly wanted to convey in the opera.
The RCMIOS's production is a very German experience with both the intrigue of Mozart’s enchanting opera muzzled in with light humour. It is also a springboard for the diverse talent at the RCMIOS. One rarely feels miserable after seeing Die Zauberflöte and being exposed to Mozart's operatic power.

Die Zauberflöte is showing until the 29th November 2014. Click here for more information. Please note the change in cast depending on the night.