The Magic Flute is literally one of the most magical pieces of musical theatre ever written which has fascinated and entertained audiences ever since its premiere in Vienna in 1791. A sparkling, resonant and inspiring work which was first performed only two months before Mozart’s tragic and untimely death at the age of 35. The opera was originally written in German and titled ‘Die Zauberflöte’ as it was intended for an audience of the common people of Vienna who spoke German and not the aristocrats and the Imperial Court who if not always speaking Italian in their day-to-day lives, certainly only attended operas written in Italian. Die Zauberflöte was also premiered in the decidedly un-imperial surroundings of the Theatre auf der Weiden which would have been way to common for the Viennese aristocracy.
The Magic Flute is rather unique in the operatic canon in that it is often cited as a good introductory work for those who feel they dislike or are intimidated by opera yet like a lot of Mozart’s operas it is a very complex work with many layers of meanings and messages. It is a work that is at the very pinnacle of the achievements of the western musical tradition and is continually in the top five operas performed globally each year.
This production was by North Dublin Opera, a relatively new company, and was presented at The Little Theatre in Skerries, a theatre whose name didn’t disappoint as it certainly was a little theatre. The kind of performance space which should be at the heart of the arts community in towns and villages the length and breath of the country. This production was aimed at kids and was a delightful performance by an enthusiastic and energetic company who really made the effort to engage with and entertain the children in the audience. The fun and lightheartedness of the performance was quite captivating for all the kids and indeed adults there.
There was a narrator in the person of Mozart himself who introduced the story and throughout the performance kept everyone up to date with what can be a rather convoluted plot. This was a wonderful idea and was very well executed engaging the young audience with the characters. All the cast members were in very colourful costumes and make up which was very impressive and the set was minimal which I always like as it leaves more room to focus on the performance, the singing and the story being told.
The evil characters of the Queen of the Night and Monostatos were very well portrayed. Monostatos was wonderfully slinky and slithery in his black and white costume and face paint while Linda Walsh as the Queen of the Night admirably tackled one of the most difficult singing roles ever written for a soprano. To hear such an enthusiastic rendition of ‘Der Holle Rache’ from a young singer performing for kids in a small hall was a moment of pride and hopefulness for any opera lover. Tim Shaffery performed a lovable and cowardly Papageno and sung his character wonderfully while Elaine McDaid delivered a great vocal performance as Pamina. Rachael Hanaphy-Pigott’s Tamino was solid and well sung if a touch restrained while Clodagh Brennan’s Papagena was joyful and enthusiastic with the ‘Pa pa pa’ duet with Tim Shaffery bubbly, and very well acted and sung.
The ‘three ladies’ of Catrina Scullion, Bríd Ní Ghruagáin and Clare McEvoy were adequately threatening and intimidating to poor Papagino and sung their opening ‘Die, monster, by our power’ beautifully. Their harmony singing was very impressive indeed. The ‘three boys’ in the form of three girls this time were wonderfully energetic, elfish and mischievous. (gender fluidity was workaday in opera long before the social engineers got their hands on it!).
It is a credit to the quality of Mozart’s music and the talents of these singers that even though accompanied only by Catriona Grimes on piano, this didn’t in any way take away from the effectiveness of the production or the beauty of the music. In fact in a small hall the stripped back musical accompaniment allowed the vocal abilities of the singers to shine through. The show was almost two hours long and again it was a credit to the performers and producers that they kept the attention of all the children in the theatre right to the end. No easy task, (especially with Opera), as I know only too well. When my own son was ten I took him to see the Opera Theatre Company’s wonderful English language production of The Magic Flute back in 2011. It hasn’t yet ignited a passion for opera in him but at least it allayed any fears he may have had about his fathers love of opera being bizarre and unexplainable.
Another particularly nice touch to this performance was the cast chatting to the audience after the performance and answering any questions from the children about opera. The production was aimed at kids and fulfilled that brief admirably but even as an adult opera lover I have to say I really enjoyed the energy and enthusiasm from the stage and was intrigued and entertained by the performance. This sort of effort to engage with younger audiences and make opera more accessible and enjoyable is exactly the kind of exercise that should be applauded, encouraged and supported. This particular production would for example be ideal to tour schools to help introduce kids to opera. A number of UK opera companies are doing this sort of engagement work with young people and it’s a lead I feel Irish opera companies would do well to follow. Well done North Dublin Opera!
A recommendation for a DVD of a wonderful English language production of The Magic Flute which kids will love is Here
Linda Walsh who sung The Queen of the Night is also a Composer and Music Teacher and is Here