MAGIC FLUTE – MOZART – ENGLISH NATIONAL OPERA
A change of venue for me this time when I saw on 21 March Mozart’s Magic Flute at the London Coliseum in Martin’s Lane, performed by the English National Opera conducted by Michael Lloyd.
A mixture of fantasy, allegory and pantomime, something of a fairy – tale (the opera is very popular with children!) it is actually a ‘singspiel’- a German comic opera with spoken dialogue; a forerunner of what to become – in later years – musical comedy.
The first performance took place on 30 September 1791 at the Theatre auf der Wieden and was conducted by Mozart himself. A few days after the premiere illness compelled Mozart to take to his bed where he lay each evening, watch in hand, following in his imagination the progress of the opera on stage. Two days later he died!
Mozart was – in later life – a Freemason as was Emanuel Schikaneder who wrote the libretto. The use of the number 3 (very significant in Freemasonry) is therefore very prominent in the opera and appears constantly. The references to Freemasoning much frowned upon in Austria at the time, are very cleverly concealed.
The Prince Tamino (played by Mark Le Brocq) falls in love the Pamino, the daughter of the Queen of the Night after seeing her portrait. He sings the exquisite aria “O Loveliness Beyond Compare!” Pamino is played by Julia Unwin. He sets off to rescue her from Sarastro, High Priest of Isis and Osiris. He is given a magic flute as a protection against evil and Papageno – a bid-catcher – who accompanies him has a chime of magic bells. When Tamino reaches the Temple of Nature, Reason and Wisdom he discovers that Sarastro is wise and good and that it is the Queen of the Night (Cyndia Sieden) who is the wicked person.
[Tamino is based on the Emperor Joseph II who supported Freemasonry, whilst the Queen of the Night is based on Empress Marie Theresa a bitter opponent of Freemasonry.]
Tamino and Pamina who have survived various ordeals and Masonic rituals, culminating in a trial by fie and water, are reunited, the Queen of the Night being powerless to injure them. Papageno is also rewarded with a bride, Papagena (played by Mary Nelson).
There was a lot of fresh talent amongst the cast encouraged to make the most of their voices by the director of this ninth revival Carlos Wagner. The high point of the evening is really Cyndia Sieden as the Queen of the Night. It is one of the most challenging soprano roles and she pitches her top notes with starry precision. Her ladies-in waiting – Nerys Jones, Catherine Savory and Clair West on are wickedly camp as punk-style Marie Antoinette’s in blue wigs.
At one performance the bird-catcher Papageno took it in good part when a real live dove pecked his finger. Amusement came with duet with Papagena in a boat-sized suspended above the stage: all-in-all an evening of great fun.