Review: The Magic Flute from The Merry Opera Company in Worthing

Magic Flute - finale - The Merry Opera Company (contributed pic)Magic Flute - finale - The Merry Opera Company (contributed pic)
Magic Flute - finale - The Merry Opera Company (contributed pic)
Review by Richard Amey. The Magic Flute: The Merry Opera Company and Worthing Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus at Assembly Hall, Worthing, Opera in two acts, libretto by Schikaneder, music by Mozart. German, performed in English.

MOC: stage director John Ramster, music director Kelvin Lim, set and costume design Bridget Kimak, assistant director and stage manager Lorrie Hay, lighting design Melissa Holmes. WPO: leader June Lee, conductor Dominic Grier.

Tamino, a prince, William Searle (tenor)

Pamina, a princess Rebecca Milford (soprano)

Papageno, royal bird catcher, Christopher Faulkner (tenor)

Queen of the Night, mother of Pamina, Eleri Gwilym (sop)

Sarastro, head of the brotherhood, Matthew Quirk (bass)

Monostatos, slave of Sarastro, Dominic Mattos (counter tenor)

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Papagena , a bird-catcher’s potential mate, Valerie Wong (sop)

Queen’s Ladies – Gwilym, Wong, Mattos

The brotherhood:

Boys – Milford, Gwilym, Mattos

Speaker – Quirk, Faulkner

Armed Men – Searle, Quirk

Slaves – Searle, Wong, Quirk

First Priest – Mattos

Pamina cover – Wong

Photo: Papageno, Queen of the Night, Pamina, Sarastro, Tamino, Monostatos, Papagena.

(See separate report on Worthing Symphony Orchestra’s Beethoven 5 concert)

A landmark weekend in Worthing of Mozart opera on Saturday night, featuring one of its two orchestras with its Chorus, then a Beethoven-led symphony concert by the other on Sunday afternoon. Is this brazen random courage or just the exciting way Worthing now breathes?

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Add in one of the town’s own International Interview Concerts a month previously with a week later WPO’s own 75th anniversary concert. In June comes Worthing’s own second annual Festival, with a WPO blockbuster concert blazing out on its first Sunday (see below).

At The Magic Flute, I saw a painter, graphic designer and art teacher, with his wife, there to soak up his first live opera, already knowing this one from home listening. A townswoman also tasting her first live opera, not knowing this one but thrilled to bits by the experience, and off to watch her first Swan Lake ballet the following week. Another opera first-timer there, while already a concert and theatre production volunteer, found himself fascinated.

Three examples among hundreds of ‘arts enlightened’ watching a Mozart masterpiece about life enlightenment, which is the world’s opera most performed. Why the most? Because it readily reflects life’s ambiguities, contradictions and sureties, as laughter and frown, comedy and severity, benevolence and dastardliness, challenges and let-offs, all side by side. The Magic Flute’s music does it. Such that, daily, the opera sent Vienna wild with enthusiasm, reviving Mozart’s public fortunes, tackling some of his debt, composed and launched, unstoppable, in his 36th and final year of life.

It must be 30 years since The Magic Flute last came to Worthing, with a small visiting opera company, and the ‘high priest’ role of Sarastro imposing its nobility and philosophical strength on this musical town. Librettist Emanuel Schikaneder, he a bold musician, actor, comedian and impresario, set up several such travelling companies that made his name in oncoming Enlightenment, post-Baroque Vienna. And now to Worthing came another such outfit, The Merry Opera Company, who two years ago did The Mikado with WPO and musical director Dominic Grier. Here, now, Merry Opera completed their 11-date tour of East Anglia, the South East and London.

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In these straitened, seemingly spiritually cheerless times, more than the sobering, signposting Sarastro it was Schikaneder’s own comic role, Pagageno, who most uplifted the Worthing audience. And people who could scarcely contemplate a financial high night out at Covent Garden or Glyndebourne felt they’d still been given the goods. A strapping orchestra directed with full assurance from a bristling conductor. A handful of versatile voices and acting talent, some of them names to watch out for, in skeleton staffing sharing multiple roles, in productions with just as much to say.

William Searle, a gratifying lyric tenor as the pure and steadfast love-questing prince Tamino. Rebecca Milford combining power with humility as Pamina, his partner-to-be in surmounting tests in love and ethical worthiness to join Sarastro’s sect of abiders in Wisdom, Reason and Nature. Christopher Faulkner, panpiping and jingling, quipping and risking, on his garrulous way into Papageno’s braver, deeper learning and final amorous fulfilment.

Matthew Quirk, maturely firm and humanly magisterial in uttering Sarastro’s guidance and justice, in offering his brotherhood as alternative to the intimidating realm of the volatile Queen of the Night – here with Eleri Gwilym’s stabbing and unhinged vocal vehemence and nastiness. Valerie Wong, whose wide value to Merry Opera Co alongside her bubbly Papagena includes leading its marketing.

And Dominic Mattos, whose counter tenor makes him valuably the most ubiquitous casting, although with the trade-off that his Monostatos, in his hormonal harassing of the virginal Tamino, sounds too high-pitched to take seriously.

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The young Grier’s already wide theatrically-experienced direction of WPO, under Kelvin Lim’s score selectivity, kept Mozart’s tight pacing and balanced the voices and instruments in their more expanded performing layout. He kept his 49 instrumentalists and 26 Chorus alert to the nuances, sublimities, snap and punch of Mozart’s responses – the score incapable of being undermined by any extravagance of the characters’ appearance or deed, and sometimes even accentuated by those.

There was at least one interesting by-product of needing the musicians further down the Hall than normal, on the floor, to free the stage for the opera action. The orchestra were in an unaccustomed acoustic area of the Assembly Hall, tapping into slight reverberation suggestive of Sarastro’s spacious communal headquarters when ceremonial music sounded.

So, how was it staged and dressed? A simple backscene of eclipsing sun’s corona fire, plus two wings screening the countless costume changes.All three structures in plain mid-blue with opening doors in two storeys, enabling the brotherhood’s monitoring of Tamino, Pamina, Papageno during their membership qualifying examinations, and the supply of temporary props. Six folding chairs, reversible, in two colours, were multi-functional for sitting, standing , perching or reclining.

Stacks of fun in the costumes and action. Tamino arrived in a grey three-piece suit with travelling suitcases, Papageno in a long yellow tee with Orvill eyes, pink leggings and outsize slippers, topped by his tall feathered headdress, panpipes and rotary-wheel enchantment chimes. Sarastro’s ‘high-priestly’ vestments – actually a white gown and clipboard, suggesting perhaps a medical consultant, but then a wild white headdress over black surgical goggles, evoking maybe a mad brain surgeon on his hospital ward rounds, or an eccentrically self-possessed scientist running his own experimental funny farm.

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The Queen of the Night prowled in gauzy evening dresses, first white, then black. Monostatos pestered in a red boiler suit with beanie hat and sunglasses. Tamino, Pamina and Papageno trialled in tangerine boiler suits, the royal couple’s becoming white to signal their flying colours of accomplishment. The Queen’s Ladies accomplices were in innocuous red raincoats, with rain hats and handbags which the cast switched to white scarves like jabots and plumed mayoral hats, to become the Boys.

Most striking and ethically symbolic of the ‘brotherhood of light’ priesthood and acolytes was the use of white globes, lights on chest fronts and miner’s lamps on heads. This reached climax with the use of the ceiling globe to send sparkle from the stage all around the auditorium.

Humorous staging touches included a large banner ‘Help find lost Pamina’ fixed to a mock Press conference table concerning Tamino’s hunt for her – she, not reputedy held captive, but instead hidden under Sarastro’s protection from her mother. And when Papagena finally materialised, ending Papageno’s own love-quest, and identically dressed to him, as they lined up together betrothed, the avuncular Sarastro placed an egg box on her head.

Two of many touches of real theatre and amusement, to get the audience engaged, thinking, connecting with live, fleshed-out opera, then eagerly taking it back home into their screen-dominated lives. Seeking and wanting more.

Richard Amey

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This weekend (tickets from

Saturday 27 April (6pm) & Sunday 28 April (3.30pm & 6pm) doors 25min ahead at Lancing College Chapel. Smugglers’ Folk Opera: Beware The Mackerel Sky. The Boundstone Chorus, Worthing Choral Society, Lancing College Choir, College Singers, massed children’s choir; Yehudi Menuhin School & String Academy orchestra.

Next concerts (tickets from

Sunday 19 May, Worthing Symphony Orchestra Concert – 2.45pm, Assembly Hall; leader Julian Leaper, conductor John Gibbons, piano soloist Maria Marchant. Glinka, Ruslan and Ludmila Overture; Scriabin, Reverie; Chopin, Piano Concerto No 2 in F minor; Brahms, Symphony No 1. Marchant returns after previous wowings with Gershwin Rhapsody in Blue (2023) and Beethoven Emperor (2021). Here playing the Chopin concerto with which Varavara Tarasova won the 2015 Sussex International Piano Competition with WSO in Worthing.

Sunday 9 June (the opening weekend of Worthing Festival), Worthing Philharmonic Orchestra ‘Musical Pictures’ Concert – 3pm, Assembly Hall, leader Preston Yeo, conductor Denise Ham, violin soloist June Lee. Berlioz, Roman Carnival Overture; Bruch, Violin Concerto No 1 in G minor; Debussy, Prelude de L’Apres Midi D’un Faun; Mussorgsky (orchestrated Ravel), Pictures At An Exhibition. Be ready for a possible pre-concert talk with WPO musical director Dominic Grier.

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