From its earliest moments, as a giant prawn bursts out of the doors attempting to consume our hero, it’s clear that Cooke is going to have fun with his staging. His production is played broadly to the galleries as Mozart weaves his plot through dastardly villains, alluring enchantresses, heroic rescues, a climactic good versus evil confrontation and an ending to send one home happy. Though the dialogue sections (more than one would expect) come across as panto in the worst way, scenes with actors donning animal heads suggest Cooke is drawing his influences far and wide, that predictable German theatrical trope blending in with its European folk sensibilities and English pantomime traditions found elsewhere.
What rises this above the norm though is its first rate musicianship both from the WNO orchestra and its performers. Koenigs leads his orchestra with distinction, judging the tempo and pitch of the piece just right, his is a steady hand upon the wheel and he draws committed, occasionally inspired playing from across his team. English translations from the original can jar, their rhythms straining against the music, but Jeremy Sams’ translation is brisk and rhythmically correct and the singing so crisp that there is a lack of cricking of neck to check the surtitles.
Sophie Bevan’s Pamina is lusciously sung, suggesting a singer well on her way to the top and her work with Allan Clayton’s Tamino blends wonderfully. Jacques Imbrailo’s South African inflected Papageno provides most of the heavy lifting, but manages to make this clown less tiring and more fun than most and gets most of the best tunes, though the 11’o clock number comes from Samantha Hay’s Queen of The Night, making her mark with four Top Fs in a performance that gains in confidence as it goes along.
Julian Crouch’s surrealist influenced design still feels fresh, borrowing heavily from Magritte and Salvador Dali, all blue skies, raked stages and monster sea creatures, with the chorus dressed in orange suits and bowler hats (though why our hero is dressed like an Italian waiter is a question perhaps asked for another time) and an evocative lighting design from Chris Davey that bursts into glorious life for its final beautiful tableaux.
For any opera company finding the right Magic Flute production that can return for years and boost the coffers is a must. WNO have found theirs in this surreal crowd pleaser and from the evidence presented here there is plenty of juice left in its tank.