The Magic Flute at the London Coliseum

ENO’s production is very much for 2024 London. Completely charming but fuelled with conceptual depth and thinking. Fine singing, live video artist, live sound effects artist, dialogue in colloquial English and many additional performers as well as the scripted characters. The orchestra’s flautist and glockenspiel play on stage, alongside Tamino and Pagageno with the glockenspiel player being the comedic butt of some of Papageno’s jokes.

It’s a production that blows open the last fifty years (at least) of performing tradition. There are gains, the Masonic symbolism is retained with the heavily conceptual design. An unforgettable comedic Papageno (David Stout) and a masterly Sarastro (John Relyea). Rainelle Krause plays The Queen of Night from a wheelchair, emphasising pity not power, but loosing the satire of Marie Theresa, as the first audiences would have understood Schikaneder’s character.
There’s sophisticated comedy as well as bawdy humour; pathos, audience engagement as well as deep emotion - tears around me in the audience when Tamino refuses to answer Pamino except with the flute solo. The story is the clearest I have seen it: every moment on stage makes sense, more or less. The Magic Flute is not a pantomime, it’s described as a Singspiel, which translates as German Opera, so combines elements of comedy with philosophy and drama. The great choruses and the arias are performed faithfully in this production but Mozart’s elegant orchestral counterpoint sometimes comes over as movie music in the urge to keep the action going, not relished in the traditional way as moments of reflection.
The Magic Flute is the opera that I come back to time and again. In many ways it’s Mozart’s last opera, even if not the last in the catalogue. So a surprise and an initial shock to see an old friend reimagined by ENO’s revival of this production. Yet the enthusiasm of the cast, the musicians, the staging and technical staff are infectious and impressive: ENO seem to be throwing everything they have in to these last few productions before their exile to Manchester, or maybe rebirth. The staging is built on a plinth suspended from four hawsers, with the singers performing on it, sometimes at a precarious angle. It’s stunningly effective, the element of risk included, but I shudder at the safety paperwork that must have necessary.
Rapturous standing applause - I counted five curtain calls for the full company. But there were also a number of unoccupied seats after the interval, this production is very much not traditional and certainly not twee like many long-standing Magic Flutes have been.


The Magic Flute (K620)
A Singspiel in two acts
by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Libretto by Emanuel Schikaneder
English translation by Stephen Jeffreys

Characters in order of appearance
Tamino: Norman Reinhardt
Three Ladies in attendance on the Queen of Night:
Carrie-Ann Williams
Amy Holyland
Stephanie Wake-Edwards
Papageno: David Stout
The Queen of Night: Rainelle Krause
Monostatos: Peter Hoare
Pamina: Sarah Tynan
Spirits: Lucy Barlow, Ivo Clark, Oliver Hull, Ethan James, Leo Ogungbemi, Olivia Purnell
Speaker: Jonathan Lemalu
Sarastro: John Relyea
First Priest/First Armed Man: Gavan Ring
Second Priest/Second Armed Man Ossian Huskinson
Papagena: Alexandra Oomens
Members of Sarastro’s community, Priests and Slaves

Conductor: Erina Yashima
Assistant conductor: James Henshaw
English National Opera Chorus
English National Opera Orchestra

Director: Simon McBurney
Revival director: Rachael Hewer
Set designer: Michael Levine
Costume designer: Nicky Gillibrand
Lighting designer: Jean Kalman
Associate lighting designer: Mike Gunning
Movement director: Josie Daxter
Revival movement director: Gabriella Schmidt
Video designer: Finn Ross
Revival video designer: Jane Michelmore
Sound designer: Gareth Fry
Associate sound designer: Matthieu Maurice