lobster claws

Lobster claws can be a real problem, as Ben Johnson as Tamino is finding out. Pictures: Bill Cooper

 The Magic Flute

Welsh National Opera

Birmingham Hippodrome


In Vienna in 1791, it could be fair to say that Mozart would have experienced musical fame of immense proportions, a pop star of his day.

His new opera, The Magic Flute was received with delight and vigour. Now in 2019, Welsh National Opera have a vision to make opera as accessible as possible.

Reviving a Mozart favourite, this spectacular production of The Magic Flute has a bouncy and modern watchability. Its striking visuals and clever directorial choices are a great backdrop to Mozart’s surreal and funny tale about going to the ends of the earth for love.

Tamino, a brave young lover, is rescued from a sea monster by three ladies in waiting. We discover straight away that the monster is in fact a giant sea lobster. The impressively large creature creeps in from the side of the stage and instantly propels the production into comical territory.


Claire Hampton as Papagena and Mark Stone as Papageno    

Tamino, who is played gallantly by Ben Johnson, is sparked out cold by the hand of the lobster. Luckily, the ladies are on hand to nurse him back to health. The trio who are made up of Jennifer Davis, Kezia Bienek and Emma Carrington ramp up funny gags in desperate bids to be the last woman standing in order take care of the invalid.

After a quick recovery, Tamino meets the silly and lovable Papageno, sung by Mark Stone, who is a bird catcher looking for a Papagena. We also meet at this stage the Queen of the Night, a fierce matriarch played by Anna Siminska, with a splendid costume of rich green peacock feathers and a belting voice to suit. It has been said that Mozart thought of this character and her ‘high f note’ on his deathbed.

Mozart does not hold back from displaying family issues in that the Queen of the Night tells Tamino that her daughter, Pamina, played by Anita Watson has been taken and imprisoned by her own father, Sarastro.

The Queen of The Night ensures that if he succeeds in bringing Pamina back, he is guaranteed her hand in marriage. Of course, Tamino is shown a photo of beautiful Pamina and it is enough for him to fall in love with her. It is now a life or death cause for him to rescue his new instant love. Tamino and Papageno cannot complete the mission without the aid of magical musical instruments, which come in handy at their times of need.

With impressive vocal talent from the cast and the genius hand of Mozart’s arrangements, all elements blend into an entertaining opera. We see a beautiful and innocent love through the characters of Tamino and Pamina (Johnson and Watson) and we feel elated when the lovable sidekick Papageno’s wish is finally granted. Claire Hampton’s Papagena is comically executed with real gusto.

Mozart definitely finds a way of ironing out all family troubles and the trials of love. The second act sees a change of heart in Sarastro’s stern fatherly manner. Jihoon Kim is marvellous within this role. Mozart makes sure we leave with the ever-important feel good ending. The last scene is the wedding between Tamino and Pamina. Although a little abrupt in its execution, we are still able to gauge that all turns out how it should be in the end.

Julian Crouch designs the set as if we are on a far distant land in the sky. Clouds envelope the stage and tall oak doors open to reveal the fiery elements of Tamino’s mission. It is a classic simple, yet effective style where the focus lies with the pure talent from each performer.

Dominic Cooke has a keen eye for adding visual comic detail into the already flamboyant story. Floor hatches are definitely a theme in this production and it leads to some funny moments, especially in scenes that contain a large chorus. Thomas Blunt is the wonderful conductor that leads the brilliant WNO orchestra.

There are also quite striking adult themes within this, particularly within the character Monostatos, played by Howard Kirk. The production does well to display the striking ideas with a mature flare.

For the opera purist, the English translation and interjections of dialogue are sometimes distracting, but the feeling still remains that this is a superbly talented cast, driven with a clever design and outstanding orchestra. To 09-03-19 (3.00 pm)

Elizabeth Halpin



Index page Hippodrome Reviews A-Z Reviews by Theatre