The Magic Flute, Grand Theatre, Leeds

The Magic Flute
The Magic Flute

This is the most problematic of Mozart's four major operas, largely because of the hotchpotch of love stories, light comedy, supernatural magic and Masonic ritual from which it is cobbled together.

To succeed for a modern audience it has to be simplified and given some kind of clear direction, but James Brining's new production for Opera North does the opposite.

The major problem is that it is over-produced - a flurry of bright ideas and tedious business that never add up to the sum of their often intrusive parts.

The set consists of massive walls which are reconfigured (presumably to make some point which never becomes clear) so often that we see more of the stage hands than we do of the principals.

A four-poster bed, tables and chairs are constantly trundled on and off stage by the performers and back-projected flowers, flags, fire and water (symbolising something, no doubt), merely add to the general confusion.

The story is presented as a little girl's dream, a conceit which does nothing to clarify the complex plot, and musically, too, this falls short of Opera North's usually high standards.

None of the principals stands out, although Samantha Hay as the Queen of the Night manages the coloratura flights of fancy for which the piece is best known well enough, Sheffield-born John Savournin's deep-brown voice adds distinction to the role of the good guy, Sarastro, and Gavan Ring turns the witless bird-catcher Papageno into an engaging leprechaun.

But there is little chemistry between him and his long-sought-after girlfriend Papagena, and even less between Chinese -Australian Kang Wang and South African Vuvu Mpofu as the other pair of star-crossed lovers, Tamino and Pamina.  The words are sometimes difficult to hear, even though they are sung in English.

It is 10 years since Opera north's last production of this old chestnut, but it has to go down as an opportunity missed.