With versions presented by five UK opera companies, 2019 is the year of Mozart’s Magic Flute. It is an opera high on the wish-list of directors who find the mix of high art and vaudeville, the strong storylines and glorious music an irresistible canvas. Scottish Opera’s share of memorable productions has included Jonathan Miller’s book-lined set and Tamino appearing as an astronaut in Jonathan Moore’s interpretation. It was a joy to welcome back the Victorian stovepipe hats in this charming revival of Sir Thomas Allen’s 2012 production, resonating perfectly not only with Glasgow’s industrial heyday, but reflecting the city’s rich heritage of popular entertainers. With Allen back in town to personally oversee the revival, the fun started early as Tamino was pulled from the audience and into the booth of a handkerchief-juggling Victorian showman, an everyman on his journey to enlightenment.

Julia Sitkovetsky (The Queen of the Night) © James Glossop
Julia Sitkovetsky (The Queen of the Night)
© James Glossop

Allen knows this opera inside-out as a renowned Papageno, and with his skilful singer’s direction has created a memorable production of clear story-telling and amusing entertainment balancing Tamino’s seriousness with Papageno’s carefree approach on a playful knife-edge. Kit Hesketh-Harvey’s witty translation was left open enough to insert further humorous asides keeping this Singspiel bang up-to-date, with movement director Kally Lloyd-Jones bringing a jaunty mix to the flowing and dynamic action.

Designer Simon Higlett’s busy set, costumes and props were a cornucopia of steampunk detail. The brass and cogwheel semi-circular walkway gantries set in a rotunda were reminiscent of a Victorian lecture theatre with small colonial circular windows, the upper gallery tiers reserved for the enlightened brethren with a world of steamy boilers and levers below. Mark Jonathan’s lighting was creative, atmospheric and full of colourful surprises as shafts of light cut through clouds of boiler steam. I enjoyed the costume lighting with fairy lights for the Three Ladies and Queen of the Night’s dresses, spotlights in stovepipe hats and pink head-torches for Monostatos’ henchmen.

Richard Burkhard (Papageno) © James Glossop
Richard Burkhard (Papageno)
© James Glossop

The Magic Flute’s music is well known, and in a very decently sung production, Richard Burkhard reprised his role in a splendid central crowd-pleading performance as a charming Papageno, clowning gloriously with his bells. Peter Gijsbertsen was a strong, heroic Tamino, his secure tenor matching Gemma Summerfield’s honeyed Pamina. Jeni Bern, Bethan Langford and Sioned Gwen Davies made a formidable trio of Ladies, their voices blending well in their matching sparkly dresses and individually distinctive headgear, including a lit inverted crescent moon extending beyond shoulder width. Julia Sitkovetsky’s Queen of the Night made the high notes sound sweet, her high-octane coloratura earning cheers as she absolutely nailed her difficult arias. James Creswell’s Sarastro oozed authority with his black cape and sinister narrow shades, his sonorous bass reaching the low notes with ease.

Elsewhere, supporting roles were sound, with Tyler Clarke and Sion Goronwy as compassionate Men in Arms, guiding Tamino and Papageno on their journey. Adrian Thompson was a suitably evil Monostatos and there was some truly lovely singing from Dingle Yandell as The Speaker. The Three Boys had the tricky challenge of singing in rigid fixed poses while being flown at the back, each dressed in white holding parasols with revolving propellers. While it looked stylish, there was a more even balance when they joined Pamina at the front of the stage in the final Act, imploring her to not to commit suicide. Finally, Sofia Troncoso made a comic Papagena, transforming from a rotund Mrs Tiggywinkle outfit to a beautiful soulmate for Papageno, surrounded by steampunk prams with tartan blankets for the emerging “papageni”.

Peter Gijsbertsen (Tamino) and Gemma Summerfield (Pamina) © James Glossop
Peter Gijsbertsen (Tamino) and Gemma Summerfield (Pamina)
© James Glossop

The chorus of brethren in their frock coats, boilermen, miners and Victorian nurses under chorusmaster Susannah Wapshott sounded thrilling. In the elevated pit with all players out in front of the stage, Tobias Ringborg held stage and players together well bringing out period colours from a Mozartian-sized band that included natural trumpets, small-bore trombones, basset horns and period timpani. A special mention must go to Scottish Opera emerging artist Erika Gundesen for a nifty performance on the keyboard glockenspiel for Papageno’s bells.

Scottish Opera’s production is very stylish, but all the more approachable by not pushing boundaries. The Masonic symbolism is certainly there in the music and on stage – the Brethren stalk the brass galleries throughout, and Sarastro’s priesthood is a male world, but Allen does not let it get in the way. As the men and women celebrate Pamina and Tamino’s successfully completed trials, the joyous message of this entertaining production is that the path to Enlightenment is there for all who seek it out. An entertaining evening full of surprises absolutely delighted the packed-out first-night audience in Glasgow’s Theatre Royal.

****1