The Magic Flute review: Ensemble OrQuesta, St Mary in the Castle, Hastings, June 1

Mozart’s Magic Flute becomes increasingly difficult to stage as time goes on.

The Magic Flute. Picture by Peter Mould
The Magic Flute. Picture by Peter Mould

Marcio da Silva’s programme note addresses these very real concerns even if his production tends to diplomatically skirt the problems rather than address them.

The strong racist elements are simply overlooked with no hint at Monostatos’ origins or the overt connections to slavery.

Sign up to our daily SussexWorld Today newsletter

However the misogynistic elements are more deep-seated and therefore too complex to ignore.

The Magic Flute. Picture by Peter Mould

Thankfully the musical side is so well presented that it would be easy to simply ignore the context and indulge in the beauty of the singing – and the quality across the evening is never in doubt. But the problems raised never quite go away and much of this is down to the impressive characterisation we are given.

Jessica Leao’s Queen of the Night is a good case in point. Magnificently sung, with the top coloratura spun off as if she has been doing it all her life, she comes across as deeply sympathetic. Her daughter has been stolen from her by a man who thinks he knows better, in a world dominated by men. As the leader of the cult Vedat Dalgiran’s Sarastro is dangerously convincing – a benign populist who places his type of rationalism above all other philosophies, and who sings with a calming authority which sweeps all before it. Under the circumstances it is no wonder that Alex Gebhard’s Tamino is taken in and allows himself to go through the rituals without questioning them. Only the outsider, Flavio Lauria’s amiable Papageno seems to begin to see through the charade, concerned for the essentials of life – food and companionship – rather than existential philosophy. He is also the only Papageno I have ever come across able to do his own whistling – a magnificent feat! Helen May’s finely sung Pamina seemed a far stronger character than the text sometimes gives her credit for and her rendition of Ach ich fuhl’s – with her back to the audience – was very effective and moving.

Within the confines of the temple Oguzhan Engin’s Monostatos is something of a loose cannon. His bungled attempts at seduction never put him off and even at the very end he is intent on trying to seduce the Queen of the Night if he can’t have her daughter.

The orchestral ensemble was well balanced with particular respect for Neylson Crepalde who not only sang the Speaker with considerable aplomb on the first night, but also played both the side drum and Papageno’s bells, while on the second night conducting the performance.

The Magic Flute. Picture by Peter Mould

Marcio da Silva’s conducting of the opening night was tight and forceful, driving his singers even where some might have wanted to indulge the musical line rather more.

The only minor quibble must be with the every-present dry-ice machine which constantly clicked into action across the line of the music and occasionally made the singers invisible within its clouds.

Four shows to see in Hastings. Click here to find out more.

The Magic Flute. Picture by Peter Mould