As Welsh National Opera takes its production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute on the road, Jamie Davis reviews this new version of a fairy tale opera, with a modern twist.
Daisy Evans’ first production since her 2022 South Bank award-nomination is heading out on tour this spring and is helping to maintain the status of Mozart’s The Magic Flute as one of the most popular operas of all time. Of course, Evans and her team understand that to preserve this particular repute, an opera must adapt to the modern interpretation of popularity – they have done so exceptionally.
In a balance-struggle between the freedom-loving, liberating fantasy of the night and the regimented logic of the day, the audience is taken on an adventure in which they are encouraged to question their stance. This is enabled by the authenticity of the performances of Trystan Llyr Griffiths (Tamino) and Raven McMillon (Pamina). Their story of romance is altered in Welsh National Opera’s rendition, to one of companionship through shared values – Evans’ intention here is to evade the undertones of misogyny, and the resulting emergence of Pamina as a warrior princess is a refreshing, modern twist on this classic. WNO’s performance benefits from its partnership with The Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, providing them with Madeline Eaton and Kristen Forbes who, alongside Llinos Haf Jones, deliver a talent-driven, energetic narrative in their portrayal of ‘The Young Ones’. Quirijn de Lang provides much humour as Papageno in an accomplished performance – the baritone’s rich tone is a joy to witness and, coupled with his exceptional characterisation, he delivers a stand-out display. Not to be outdone, however, the entire cast deliver first-rate vocals alongside successful storytelling, acquitting themselves well. The ability to cut through a sizeable orchestra should not be understated, and while the production is aided by surtitles in English and Welsh throughout, this was largely a formality due to the balance achieved by Paul Daniel, his orchestra and of course, the cast.
Daisy Evans has encouraged the performers of The Magic Flute to embrace their native accents, resulting in an authentic display. This decision also allowed for Welsh colloquialism, which is well received by the audience, indulging in the humour on show. The adaptation of the libretto by Evans is a fine addition. There is a sense from some that this wanders too far from Mozart’s intention, however, Die Zauberflöte was devised with popular appeal in mind. Whilst popular appeal has changed much since its premiere in Vienna, 1791, this modernisation is a welcome one which is well received by this author and the Cardiff audience. Would Mozart approve? It’s impossible to know for sure, however, considering his intention for the initial spectacle, we can assume that he would almost definitely have enjoyed the response.
The libretto, which incorporates an appropriate sense of Welshness would also encourage the novice opera spectator – this can only be seen as a positive, especially considering that this is exactly what Evans had intended. The set design is also impressive, with a revolving stage and two moveable raised platforms, quick transitions ensure pace in what can otherwise be a difficult storyline to manoeuvre. This results in the audience being encouraged to apply imagination regarding the setting of night and day, however, the lighting aids this process and clarity is achieved by the team of dedicated professionals concerned. The same can be said for costume – which bears much resemblance to the early 19th century designs, only clear modernisation has been implemented to attain a more striking ensemble. Hand-held neon lights aid the representation of the conflict, as well as providing direction and clarity of story. I’ll admit, the luminous sticks may not be to everyone’s taste, but then, is anything?
Daisy Evans states that ‘in a country that unfairly seems to view this genre as elitist, posh nonsense, we must pull together and generate work that is current, powerful and accessible’ – she managed just that and more in a work that will do much to widen the audience of a genre already loved by many.
The Magic Flute is on tour at venues across Wales and the UK until 27th May. Ticket information is available via the Welsh National Opera website.
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