Richard Bratby

WNO sinks an unsinkable opera: The Magic Flute, at Birmingham Hippodrome, reviewed

Restless, leaden, inept and flabby: Daisy Evans's production makes you appreciate the genius of Mozart and Schikaneder

Pity the luckless Pamina (April Koyejo-Audiger) as she’s forced into a succession of progressively more hideous outfits. Photo: Craig Fuller

As stage directions go, the The Magic Flute opens with a zinger. ‘Tamino enters from the right wearing a splendid Japanese hunting costume.’ That’s right, a Japanese hunting costume. What does that even look like? More to the point, what would a Viennese theatrical costume designer in 1791 have thought it looked like? Surviving evidence suggests that the answer was ‘nothing on Earth’, which is handy because it gives subsequent interpreters a huge amount of licence. Schikaneder’s rag-bag libretto has its quirks and non sequiturs, but it’s an astonishingly robust piece of theatre. I’ve seen The Magic Flute done as panto, as manga, as gothic fantasy and as 1970s British sci-fi. As long as a director preserves the essentials, it’s basically indestructible.

The world of computer gaming is a natural fit for The Magic Flute

Daisy Evans’s new staging for Welsh National Opera imagines the Flute as a 1980s video game, all grid patterns and neon: Mozart meets Tron, and why not? With its alternative worlds, boss battles and colour-coded puzzles, the world of computer gaming is a natural fit for The Magic Flute, and Loren Elstein’s interlocking, geometrical sets revolve like Tetris blocks, with costumes ranging from mock-baroque to Starlight Express. None of this is troublesome in itself, although you do have to pity the luckless Pamina (April Koyejo-Audiger) as she’s forced into a succession of progressively more hideous outfits. The sets keep moving, flushing blue and pink and orange while Papageno’s puppet birds maintain a relentless, Hitchcock-like onslaught – charming at first appearance, exhausting at the 50th.

Again, there’s nothing here that couldn’t be fixed if the heart of the piece remained intact. Evans has made a new English translation, and her updates are often fun: ‘You got this! You’re amazing!’ chirrup the Three Young Ones (women rather than boys, and they’re delightful).

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