Full disclosure – I’ve never seen opera before. I’m not familiar with the general styles or genres of the art form. For example – I know the key differences between Joseph and Blood Brothers and Calamity Jane – I know what to expect from each and what kind of songs and script will be coming my way.
However, when I watched The Magic Flute, I had no idea whether the production is a stereotypical ‘opera’ or something utterly offbeat. Because offbeat it was.
Directed by Leeds Playhouse’s James Brining, the artistic direction seems flawless. The set is just astounding, with clever use of projections that really help the audience understand what’s going on. Brining uses the opening scene to set the story – transporting us to a dreamworld where anything can happen.
The plot is very complex and tough to explain, mainly because a lot of it doesn’t make sense. In short, a random Prince (Tamino, played with vocal brilliance by Kang Wang) goes on a random quest to win the heart of a random lover Pamina. Noluvuyiso Mpofu is great in the role though possibly portrays her character to be a little weaker than she needs to be. Along the way, Tamino befriends the lovable Papageno, who is also on the search to find a wife. Along the way the pair get caught up in some weird cult brotherhood situation where they have to complete tasks as part of an initiation. After that, I kind of tune out.
A strange blend between drama, dark fantasy and comedy, the show is set to a beautiful Mozart score. Even as a total opera newbie I recognise a few of the tunes. There’s no doubt about it – there’s mind-blowing skill involved in the production from every member of cast and creative. However, the show itself is just a little… weird? Is Papageno a bird or a spirit or a human? What, exactly, does the magic flute do and why? The first half is pretty jolly, thanks mainly to the awesome Gavan Ring as Papageno. He’s got great comic timing and steals the show with his humour. However, unfortunately the second half gets a bit dark and complicated and by the time I leave (three hours from curtain up) I’m not sure I really like the opera as much as I did at the interval.
If you like random, but well-directed, productions then this is ideal. There’s no doubt exceptional skill involved and I’m very glad I experienced the show. Would I go to the opera again? I’d certainly give it another go.
Catch The Magic Flute at Leeds Grand Theatre and on tour.
Photograph credited to Alastair Muir