The Magic Flute at the Gaiety Theatre

Last night went for the first time to the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin for a performance of Mozart’s The Magic Flute by Irish National Opera in conjunction with the Irish Chamber Orchestra. It was my first INO performance and my first visit to the Gaiety Theatre (although I’m sure it won’t be the last of either of those). I’ve actually lost count of the number of times I’ve seen the Magic Flute but I hope this won’t be the last either!

The Gaiety Theatre is quite compact, which engenders a more intimate atmosphere than is often experienced at the Opera. The music being provided by a small-ish chamber orchestra also suited the venue, but more importantly gave a fresh and sprightly feeling to Mozart’s wonderful score. You would think it would be hard to make Mozart sound stodgy, but some orchestras seem to manage it. Not last night though.

The scenery is rather simple, as is needed for touring Opera playing in relatively small venues. The stage directions of the Magic Flute are in any case so outlandish that it’s virtually impossible to enact them precisely according to instructions.

For example, what is the set designer supposed to do with this?

The scene is transformed into two large mountains; one with a thundering waterfall, the other belching out fire; each mountain has an open grid, through which fire and water may be seen; where the fire burns the horizon is coloured brightly red, and where the water is there lies a black fog.

This production takes the sensible approach of leaving a lot to the imagination of the audience though that does mean, for example, that there is no dragon…

The costumes are a different matter. The hero Tamino begins in the drab clothes of a working man of the 19th century, as do the three ladies that he encounters early on in Act I. The enigmatic Sarastro and his followers are however dressed as the gentry of a similar period, and are accompanied by a chorus of domestic servants. As Tamino works his way into the Brotherhood he becomes progressively gentrified in manner and in clothing. A central idea of the Opera is that of enlightenment values prevailing over superstition, but under the surface oppression remains, both in the form imposed by property-owners on the working poor, but also in the misogynistic behaviour of Sarastro and others, and the racist stereotyping of the villainous and lustful `Moor’, Monastatos. This production is sung in the original German, and there were gasps from the audience when they saw some of the surtitles in English. Although Magic Flute is on one level a hugely enjoyable comic fantasy, it also holds up a mirror to attitudes of Mozart’s time – and what you see in it is not pleasant, especially when you realize that many of these are still with us.

Importantly, however, this undercurrent does not detract from the basic silliness which I believe is the real key to this Opera. It’s fundamentally daft, but it succeeds because it’s daft in exactly the same way that real life is.

In last night’s performance the two fine leads were Anna Devin was Pamina (soprano) and Nick Pritchard Tamino (tenor). The excellent Gavan Ring provided suitable comic relief and a fine baritone voice to boot. Kim Sheehan (soprano) as the Queen of the Night doesn’t have the biggest voice I’ve ever heard, but she sang her extraordinarily difficult coloratura arias (one of them including a top `F’) with great accuracy and agility and brought a considerable pathos to her role instead of making it the pantomime villain you sometimes find. Sarastro was Lukas Jakobski (bass), memorable not only for his superb singing way down in the register, but for his commanding physical presence. Well over 2 metres tall, he towered over the rest of the cast. I think he’s the scariest Sarastro I’ve ever seen!

And finally I should congratulate the three boys: Nicholas O’Neill, Seán Hughes and Oran Murphy. These roles are extremely demanding for young voices and the three who performed last night deserved their ovation at the end.

The last performances in this run are today (Saturday 25th May, matinée and evening) so this review is too late to make anyone decide to go and see it but last night’s was recorded for RTÉ Lyric Fm and will be broadcast at a future date.

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8 Responses to “The Magic Flute at the Gaiety Theatre”

  1. Anton Garrett Says:

    Anybody attend with a rolled-up trouser leg?

    It’s worth remembering for context that the Barbary pirates were still a menace in the Mediterranean, the Turks were at the gates of Vienna less than two lifetimes earlier, and the lyricist was of a race disparaged in the Turks’ religious texts. But The Magic Flute certainly doesn’t promote harmony across those borders.

    • telescoper Says:

      My Uncle Richard was a Freemason.

      He put fireplaces in for nothing.

    • telescoper Says:

      After defeat at the Battle of Vienna the Ottoman was no longer a threat and by Mozart’s time Turkish things, including music, were quite fashionable in Austria.

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        There’s passing reference in Cosi fan Tutte if I remember correctly. Certainly a large amount of coffee was abandoned by the Turks when the siege of Vienna was lifted in 1683 and triggered a great rise in its popularity.

      • telescoper Says:

        Yes, and there is also his Rondo alla Turca..

    • telescoper Says:

      In the Libretto, Monostatos is described as ‘ein Schwarzer’ so it may be that it is meant to be an African man. His aria in which he sings about how women find him ugly because he is black makes for even more difficult listening when you realise that it was intended as a comic song.

  2. “This production is sung in the original German, and there were gasps from the audience when they saw some of the surtitles in English.”

    I’m no Mozart expert (though I have a cousin who is); IIRC, this opera was the first by Mozart in German, previous ones having been in Italian, the lingua franca for music at the time.

    Subtitles or supertitles?

    • telescoper Says:

      Surtitles.

      Mozart wrote ‘Die Entführung Aus Dem Serail’ about ten years before ‘Die Zauberflöte’.

      But he didn’t write the libretto for either of these (or indeed for any of his operas).

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