Opera Undressed at ENO – The Magic Flute:
While London-Unattached might have something of a food and drink focus, my first passion was music. I learnt to play the piano and violin as a kid and was reasonably competent – Grade 8 in both before I was 15. And, I went on to study music at Sussex University and piano with Carola Grindea. Sitting at the Bechstein Grand in Carole’s living room in Hove only heightened my sense of romance. Part of French cafe society in the 1930s, she and her husband had a wonderful collection of original art – Pissarro, Jean Cocteau and Picasso sketches and paintings lined the walls, piles of ancient art magazines precariously heaped on every surface added to the romance. It was at that time I first went to the opera. The Jonathan Miller production of Cosi Fan Tutti at ENO. I have to admit to being dragged there somewhat reluctantly – Until I saw for myself I had been convinced opera was something stuffy with fat, wobbly-voiced women screaming on stage.
I loved every minute of it and became something of a regular. I seem to remember that you could buy sets of tickets for every production at a huge discount (and probably with a student concession too).
When ENO asked me if I’d like to come to a production of Magic Flute as part of their ‘Opera Undressed’ series, I felt something of a cheat. The idea of Opera Undressed is to dispel all those myths about opera that I had myself before I went. Live opera is as far from what you might see on screen as a live football or rugby match to the TV version. And, bad opera productions are, well, just a little hard on the ear. But, I am really not an opera novice. So, I put up a message on Facebook and my friend Andi replied. She’d been to the opera a long time ago, hated it and didn’t remember much about it (not even what she had seen). But, I know she loves Cirque du Soleil and I’ve been with her to a few theatre productions. The perfect victim!
Arriving at ENO early enough for the pre-production talk, we were ushered into the stalls. It was a relaxed and informal chat where we learnt enough of the plot to help us through the evening and found out a bit more about this particular staging. I was intrigued. Stunning lighting effects and a touch of magic were promised.
The Magic Flute is a classic ‘boy meets girl and falls in love’ story intertwined with an abduction, a rescue, an enlightenment and the defeat of evil. Here, with elegantly simple staging, contemporary costumes and some stunning visual effect, anyone would have been hard-pressed to guess the date of the first performance (1791).
Andi was entranced.
As a Musicals fan I was not sure what to expect when I was invited to see The Magic Flute at the ENO (stunning venue!). I have always discounted/avoided the Opera, as it tends to conjure up images of a heavy, solemn and very serious Italian affair.
What I did NOT expect was a hip, upbeat, modern performance. This staging of The Magic Flute could not have been better to introduce a novice to the Opera. The performance kept me spellbound during its entire duration.
She loved the music –
The orchestra was raised and so became very much part of the performance. Superb musicians.
And, although she’d been just a little bit hesitant about whether she’d be able to follow the plot she found that
Surtitles really helpful when you can’t quite catch the words.
I particularly loved the production – it’s an opera I have seen several times – this staging by Simon McBurney is memorable and more importantly, helps clarify what can be a rather confusing plot. Allan Clayton played a convincing Tamino – a mellifluous voice that surely deserves more recognition. And, Papageno, placed by Peter Coleman-Wright was delightfully wicked.
Afterwards, we went upstairs to a private party where we enjoyed a short gin and tonic pairing event hosted by Sipsmith and Fever-Tree, before indulging in a Sipsmith and tonic at the bar.
I’ve now got a convert. My friend is busily checking out the dates of the next Opera Undressed performances, where you can enjoy top quality seats and the pre-performance talk for just £20. You can find out more through the ENO’s website – it’s definitely worth giving it a try!