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Garsington's Magic Flute, conducted by Steuart Bedford -- like Howarth, a Garsington stalwart - was a mixed bag : James MacDonald, newish to staging opera, seemed to leave a handful of his skills behind at the Royal Court. Moves, exits, gestures, set changes revealed too scant a directorial hand; the three boys acted like impoverished waifs; a few gawky staging gaps intruded severely on musical pacing. Designer Rae Smith's props seemed unresponsive to the opportunities of Garsington's stone backdrop. It looked -- perhaps deliberately -- as if Prospero had fallen on hard times.

Tamino (Rufus Muller) with the three ladies (Julie Unwin, Ruth Peel and Michelle Walton), in Garsington Opera's opening production of 'Die Zauberflöte'. Photo (c) 2001 Keith Saunders

Yet a stolid Tamino (Rufus Muller) and affecting Pamina (Felicity Hammond, her exquisite l920s dress one of the production's better conceits) both sounded glorious. Sarastro (the finely reverberant Alan Ewing) brought formal dignity (whereas casting Stephen Allen's Monostatos as a chauffeur seemed pretty vapid); Jennifer Rhys Davies' sympathisable-with Queen of the Night (a kind of down-on-your-luck character straight out of J B Priestley) hit all the notes; and Macdonald's simple but effective staging of the final initiation (shades of The Midsummer Marriage, with a surreal azure lighting coup by Bruno Poet effected on a watery Garsington loggia) proved unexpectedly cathartic.

Riccardo Novaro as Papageno in Garsington Opera's opening production of 'Die Zauberflöte'. Photo (c) 2001 Keith Saunders

The star turns, Sarastro aside, came from the magnificent Priest-cum Speaker (the superb Stephen Richardson in a Tiresian cameo), the bewitching bassoon-playing of Philip Gibbon, and from Garsington's young Italian Papageno, Riccardo Novaro -- an attractive presence, a serviceable actor, a real talent, a dazzling voice every time he let rip, and a lovely sound, mature before its years.

Copyright © 9 August 2001 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry, UK




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