Dominic Cooke’s Magritte-inspired WNO production of The Magic Flute received a mixed critical response when it first appeared in 2005, and the same caveats still apply. In trying to create a viable imaginative world for Mozart’s sublime mix of pantomime and Enlightenment allegory, Cooke has sacrificed some of the work’s underlying seriousness.
The blue skies, orange bowler-hatted chorus and the giant lobster add up to a consistent, colourful and visually stunning world for the opera, but they place it decisively in the realm of comedy. It’s hard to take Sarastro (Paul Hodges) seriously when he’s wearing a natty boating blazer – or to respect the wisdom of his followers when they’re simply a floor full of disembodied heads. It’s all a bit “Mighty Boosh”.
But on those terms, it works wonderfully; fast, funny, and – when Elizabeth Watts’ Pamina took the stage – genuinely moving. Watts’ singing – poised, sweet, and laden with pathos – was glorious. Peter Wedd (Tamino) and David Stout (Papageno) hammed it up enjoyably, though Laure Meloy, as the Queen of the Night, wasn’t quite on form vocally. In his first major production, James Southall conducted with a broad brush – he’s one to watch.