Flute played with plenty of smiles

The Magic Flute

Welsh National Opera

Birmingham Hippodrome

*****

THERE was no mistaking the star of this rollocking romp through Mozart's final opera - David Stout in his first night in the role in this particular run.

He appears as a sort of cross between Harpo Marx and Peter Ustinov and along with a fine baritone full of power and depth he displays immaculate comic timing.

His delivery, body language and expressions were faultless, milking every possible laugh from the role of the chattering bird catcher Papageno and if ever he is at a loose end  a career in panto or comedy is his for the taking.

This WNO version in English first saw the light of day in 2005 and has managed to keep a freshness about it from the orange coated, bowler hatted brotherhood to the Downton Abbey maids in waiting.

It was written amid Mozart's collaboration with Emanuel Schikaneder who had his own theatre company in Vienna performing farces and fairy tale operas.

It was a great success but Mozart died soon after it opened in 1791. The Magic Flute tells the tale of Tamino,  (Peter Wedd in fine voice) who is attacked in a forest by what appears to be a giant prawn which is seen off by the three maids (Camilla Roberts, Carolyn Dobbin and Joanne Thomas) who provide not only clear voices but plenty of humour reminiscent of Gilbert and Sullivan.

When Tamino recovers he is set up by the Queen of the Night (Laure Meloy) to rescue her daughter Pamina ho has been kidnapped by her enemy Sarastro (Paul Hodges).

The tale gets a bit hazy from that point on. We know Tamino is given a magic flute to protect him and Papageno is ordered to go along as his faithful sidekick with a box of  magical bells as an added defence.

Laure Meloy showed a tremendous vocal range with a beautifully clear voice as the Queen of the Night

Form there it gets a bit hazy - fun, very colourful, amusing and interesting- but hazy.

We have a group of magical animals, the aforementioned brotherhood, three boy guides on flying bicycles an evil Monostatos (Howard Kirk) determined to have his wicked way with our sweet princess, Pamina, as well as the perfect woman for our birdcatcher, the ancient old crone from somewhere around Bacup, Papagena, (Claire Hampton) who needless to say turns into a bit of a stunner when Papageno has passed all the tests of the brotherhood, sort of, give or take a few dozen lapses. 

Amid all WNO produced some excellent singing and acting as much of the flute is spoken.

For the excellent Laure Meloy and Paul Hodges there was an extra challenge. In her aria The vengeance of Hell boils in my heart Laure has to reach a top F which is the sort of pitch that attracts inquisitive dogs while Hodges deep velvety bass lurks around bottom F quite a few times, which is the sort of sound level that attracts whales.

Both managed it with aplomb. 

Visually the opera is a delight with a clever set, all doors and trap doors from designer Julian Crouch with some stunning costumes from Kevin Pollard. 

The original was directed  by Dominic Cooke with Benjamin Davis directing the revival.

Finally a word about James Southall, the 28-year-old conductor. The orchestra was lively with plenty of colour and zest about it. The played as if they meant it. The pit may have found itself a new star.

The flute trills again on 13-11-10.

Roger Clarke 

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