Posts Tagged ‘Magic Flute’

Review – Peter Brook’s “A Magic Flute” – Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord at Barbican Theater

March 24, 2011

There are really just a few reasons to see Peter Brook’s A Magic Flute: because 1) you love The Magic Flute and want to see and hear the music wherever it is performed; 2) you are a Peter Brook “empty space” fetishist and want to see his work wherever it is performed; 3) you are a Magic Flute fangrrl who has to see every variation of this show. As it happened, I am a #2 and the friend I went with (Brrd) was a #3 (she wants to direct her own version).

Who, then, is most likely to enjoy this show? Well, underneath it all, Brrd and I are also Magic Flute fans, and I think we were both disappointed in the music. She is a trained singer and found all of the voices in the show not strong enough to handle singing over full orchestra. I, not trained, found the Queen of the Night (Leila Benhamza) lacking presence and a certain richness that makes her role and music more than just a “see me do this trick” event – all of her music should be lush, but wasn’t. Stripped down is okay for costumes and sets, but it’s not okay for music. As it was, the show only had a piano, and I found myself dissatisfied by how incredibly tinny and thin it sounded, especially when it was supposed to be a flute. I can understand a variety of reasons for getting by with less, but Brrd noted they hadn’t really even raised the lid to let the sound come out. Was it because the singers couldn’t compete? Whatever the decision, from the point of view of fans of the Magic Flute, this was a very dissatisfying evening.

Still, there’s no reason why we couldn’t still have a good time at the show. “A” flute doesn’t have to be “the” flute and can still be good, and both of us were willing to judge this show on its merits. Unfortunately, while I like the idea of getting through an opera in about 90 minutes, so much was cut away from the characterization that Tamino (Antonio Figueroa) came off a bit stupid. Papageno (Virgile Frannais) and Pamina (Agnieszka Slawinska, beautiful) managed to have enough of their clear-cut characters (earthy buffoon, lovesick yet loyal young lady) to create engaging roles.

The Brook style was interesting to see – we had barefoot actors, bamboo poles for scenery, a flute, a blanket, a rope, and a chicken for props. I was able to buy into the world they were creating, especially the fantastic “trial by fire” scene (incredibly theatrical and the best moment of the whole show, a benchmark for other Flutes in my book), but the water scene was nonexistent (and right next to the fire so massively suffering by comparison). I am willing to have my Queen of the Night be wearing just a simple robe, but … overall, just too much was stripped out of the music and the characters for this show to really work. By those standards, I can recommend this production neither to those who love the music or those who are fans of Brook; only go see it if you are a Flute completist. Otherwise, wait for a richer production – either musically (for Flute fans) or dramatically (for Brook fans) – lest you end your evening going, “I just spent how much on that?”

(This review is for a production that took lace on Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011. It continues through March 27th.)

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Impempe Yomlingo (the South African Magic Flute) – The Young Vic

November 27, 2007

Despite its somewhat sincere looking ads, Impempe Yomlingo is a Magic Flute well worth catching. First, the music is a blast – mostly performed on marimbas (I think it was about a ten marimba orchestra), but also with trumpets and even filled glass bottles – making the stiff sounds of some 200 years past come through fresh sounding and, well, pleasant on their own merits. The show was about 75% in English, and far more intelligible (even in South African) than most operas. More importantly, it was emotionally engaging, in part because several sub-plots and some of the more boring songs were cut out. The Queen of the Night had a gravitas (scary murderous powerful mom!) that Kenneth Branagh’s “psycho Tinkerbell” totally lacked; Papagena’s pink camouflage costume made tears run down my cheek. There were disco lights and dancing and people singing, in chorus, songs that had been formerly sung alone. I highly recommend it!

(This review is for the night of Tuesday, November 27th)