Perth Festival

The Magic Flute

Perth Theatre

four stars

AS its name suggests, the unique selling point of the Scots Opera Project is the language in which it performs. So it was a surprise that Michael Dempster’s translation of Shikaneder’s libretto for Mozart’s The Magic Flute is a very small part of the success of the opening attraction at this year’s Perth Festival, while still emblematic of the commitment of the ensemble cast.

In the absence of surtitles, much of Dr Dempster’s work is lost, although the Three Ladies’ early repeated “Naw me” and Papageno’s “Ah’m wabbit an’ truckled wi’ life”, as he contemplates ending it all, were clear enough.

Correctly, however, none of the music is sacrificed for the sake of making a linguistic point, and musically, this Flute is very good, for all its compact forces. The sextet in the pit – a string quartet led by Feargus Hetherington, directed from the piano by Gordon Cree, with Andrea Kuyper making the crucial contributions on the titular instrument – puts in a remarkable shift, and stage director David Douglas, in the tenor role of Tamino, adds some serviceable flute-playing from the stage, while baritone Douglas Nairne’s Papageno has a tonally-significant set of pipes round his neck to blow.


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With the crucial appearance of a fifteen-strong community chorus at the end of the first act and a cast of ten, this is not a small show, although it is effectively cut to an undemanding hour and three-quarters, including the interval.

There is something of Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest about the asylum setting, with Tamino the patient of three nurses in the opening overture, and Catriona Clark a strait-jacketed Pamina. Although the link between the production’s conceit and the composer’s life is laboured a little in the programme, the device works extremely well, as well as casting a wry glance at the few of the work’s masonic references still discernible.

Nairne is a winning, schemey Papageno, the detail in his acting matching that of his singing, and Colleen Nicoll’s statuesque Queen of the Night is the Nurse Ratched of the staging, all but stealing the show with her coloratura aria. There is clever characterisation everywhere, though, including Michael Cameron-Longden’s benign consultant Sarastro and Rachael Brimley, Cheryl Forbes and Ulrike Wutscher as the Three Ladies, the latter doubling as Monostatos and Brimley as Papagena in a saucy shadow-play version of the duet with Nairne.

After opening this year’s Perth Festival programme, this Magic Flute has a matinee repeat on Sunday at 2.30pm.

It is well worth making a journey to catch.