Lucia Cesaroni, Letica Brewer and Erin Lawson  with Colin Ainsworth: Photo by Emily Cooper
Hugh Russell as Papageno: Photo by Emily Cooper

Mozart's The Magic Flute

Sung in German with English surtitles

Dates and Venue 16, 18, 21, 23, 25 and 27 April 2009 | The Royal Theatre, Victoria

Tamino Colin Ainsworth, Papageno Hugh Russell, Pamina Shannon Mercer, Sarastro Uwe Dambruch, Queen of the Night Ailine Kutan, Monostatos Michel Corbeil

Conductor Timothy Vernon Director Glynis Leyshon Sets and Costumes John Ferguson Lighting Gerald King Chorus Master Michael Drislane

Reviewer John Jane

Pacific Opera’s last mounting of The Magic Flute was twenty-two years ago. The good news is that this production of W.A. Mozart’s beguiling operatic faerie tale was well worth the wait. Often charming, occasionally frivolous but always highly entertaining, POV’s performance of Mozart's popular Singspiel allows the audience to delight in its naive humour without forgoing the gratification of its sublime score.

From the opening few bars of the bright Overture to the last bursts of thunder in the final scene, the audience is spared none of the vast emotional range of the music - from broad comedy to the deeper spirituality.

Under the direction of Maestro Timothy Vernon, the Victoria Symphony orchestra chose consistent tempi played with clarity and brio throughout. The orchestra’s performance was matched by a stellar Canadian cast that looked every bit as good as they sang.

However, the benefits of switching between Emanuel Schikaneder’s libretto sung in old German and the common dialogue delivered in modern English may be open to personal conjecture. Neophytes might appreciate it as a concession to a broader understanding, though I’m sure many purists would believe that such a process contaminates rather than enhances the lustre of the work.

Colin Ainsworth leads the talented cast as the intrepid hero, Tamino, who is given a magic flute as a gift that, when played, can render fierce creatures to be tractable and playful. Ainsworth puts his fine lyric tenor to its best singing Dies bildnis ist bezaubernd schön early in the first act. His tender delivery set a tone of easy authority throughout the evening.

Baritone Hugh Russell is ideal as everyman Papageno, winning over the audience with his touching and endearing qualities. His quest may be less noble than that of Tamino, whose task it is to rescue the abducted Pamina, but is no less practical - his wish is to find a woman that would be his wife. He provides the kind of comic relief that Tamino doesn't. In his first aria, Der vogelfänger bin ich ja he demonstrates his remarkable skill of catching birds by emulating their sounds with the panpipes.

The battle lines between good and evil are definitively drawn in the characters of Sarastro and the Queen of the Night. Sarastro may win the struggle for their daughter Pamina’s affection, but it’s Montreal coloratura soprano, Aline Kutan making her POV debut as the Queen of the Night who wins the artistic encounter. She all but steals the show with the opera’s most demanding arias: O zitt're nicht...and the second act show-stopper Der hölle rache kocht in meinem herzen.

Vocal honours were even between Lucia Cesaroni, Letica Brewer and Erin Lawson as the Queen’s ladies –in-waiting. They brought delightful campy humour to their singing and acting, particularly when blending seamlessly to compete with each other to stay with the unconscious Tamino with Ich, Ich, Ich.

Probably the evening's highlight, though, was Shannon Mercer’s achingly beautiful performance of Pamina's Ach, ich fühl's, es ist verschwunden. Ms Mercer had been impressive even up to that point but this convinced the audience that she was much more than the typical ‘Damsel-in-distress.’

Set and costume designer John Ferguson accomplishes quality stagecraft combining three-dimensional sets and photographic projections. His marvellous clothing evokes a time and place of fin-de-siecle Vienna. Gerald King’s ingenious lighting heightens the drama and strikes the perfect balance between the sublime and the prosaic that is so important for this opera.

Mozart's The Magic Flute is a light-hearted fantasy about the pursuit of love, undoubtedly appealing to just about anyone who enjoys hearing a good story told with beautiful music.

© 2009 John Jane