Opera North are at it again, bringing opera to people who would not normally experience it and what a great choice. There can have been no more appropriate work to air on the weekend of the G7 Summit on Climate Change.
As the name suggests, there is a green message in this work, not only in the recycling of a full opera into a 40 minute piece but also in the adaptation of the story. Mozart’s original is a little convoluted but here we had a straightforward tale of the abuse of nature and its consequences. It is all very academic, however, as the main aim is to present some of opera’s best loved arias in a format which would appeal to all. There was also at least one song included which I am certain was not from the pen of Wolfgang Amadeus but which gave it a child friendly vibe.
Speaking of being child friendly, the audience was made up of all ages, ranging from yours truly to a babe in arms. The piece must have been well done as the younger element was very well behaved and absorbed in the moment. Ironically it was one of the parents, a woman sitting just behind me with three children, who insisted on talking to her issue constantly throughout the show. I am sure that they would much rather have listened to the singing and playing than her rabbiting on, I know I would!
The recycled version of The Magic Flute concerns Prince Tamino who has everything he wants except for a woman in his life. He has money, power and, thanks to his magic flute, he can attract wildlife just by playing it.
One day, whilst in the forest he meets Papageno, the bird catcher, who is bemoaning the scarcity of the critters. He explains to the Prince that he works for The Queen of the Night who demands he bring home one bird each day so that she can use the feathers to enhance her wardrobe. Prince Tamino says that he will summon up his flute’s magic powers but, after several attempts, there is not a bird to be seen. To digress here, this is where life and art failed to mirror each other because, as soon as the sound of the flute was heard, three small birds appeared from the guttering and air vents of the Holbeck Working Mens’ Club, and flew into the garden at the side. This was not a case of ‘Never work with children or animals’ as much as ‘Never work in the vicinity of children or animals!’
Meanwhile, back in the forest, Papageno and Prince Tamino realise that by taking even just one bird a day, the numbers will dwindle to nothing. Other animals seem to be facing extinction as well which is put down to a dragon breathing fire and destroying the habitats in the land of which Tamino is prince. Eventually the dragon arrives at the prince’s palace and the only way to save the environment is to sing a happy song and do a happy dance. At this point I was wondering how a 6ft tall elderly gentleman in a pale blue linen suit and Panama hat could make a discrete exit from the middle of the car park, so I soon abandoned any such plan and went with the flow. Thankfully everyone else did the same and we were all on our feet warding off the beast. I like to think that the sight of my grandad dancing contributed in no small part to its demise.
As you would imagine it all ended happily ever after with the prince finding his life partner and the Queen of the Night realising the error of her ways after being given a dressing down by Papageno.
The symbolism of the dragon destroying the environment to enable ‘progress’ to be made, and the Queen of the Night doing the same in to massage her vanity, was about as subtle as a kick in the nether regions but the kids loved it, as did at least one adult. It was a cross between parable, opera and pantomime succeeding on every count. There was even a false start to one of the songs when the accordionist’s score disappeared from his iPad and another had to be provided. This is why we go to live shows.
The Writer and Director was John Savournin who made the most of the small gazebo-like structure which was the stage. His use of hand held scenery was extremely inventive and brought the odd gasp from the audience.
I am struggling to find a novel way of conveying just how good the performers were as I seem to have exhausted all the superlatives in my vocabulary on the Opera North artists. Let me just say that they were alreet, which, as we know in Yorkshire, is the highest accolade anyone can reasonably expect.
Emily Loftus played both the love interest and the Queen of the Night, the first as innocent young maiden and the second as some over the top estuary girl you would expect to see flashing her jewellery whilst leaning on the bar of The Queen Vic in Albert Square. Priceless. Her voice was clear as crystal even in the open air setting and with a bit of a breeze blowing.
Nicholas Watts was once again on fine form as Prince Tamino with his strong tenor tones doing justice to both the serious arias and the odd comedic song.
Timothy Nelson also excelled as Papageno with the vibrations from his powerful deep baritone voice rattling the furniture.
As the piece was sung in English it was easy to appreciate just how good these singers are with every word being totally comprehensible, even to my dodgy lugholes.
The hapless accordionist, who weathered the initial storm with consumate professionalism was Djordje Gajic.
Although the performance at Holbeck Working Men’s Club was outdoors, the rest of the tour is a mixture of indoors and out. For full details please go to
or, better still, please go to one of the performances.
I came away thinking that this was almost as close as you will get to a real night at the opera; there was a glitch and someone talking in the audience, the only thing missing was some numpty’s mobile phone ringing!
All photographs by Tom Arber