It’s not often you would think of mentioning Mozart and John Lennon in the same breath, but the juxtaposition of these two musical idealists came to mind during English National Opera’s latest – and last – revival of Nicholas Hytner’s celebrated 25-year-old staging of The Magic Flute. In “Imagine” Lennon asked us to “Imagine there’s no countries/It isn’t hard to do . . . No need for greed or hunger/A brotherhood of man.” In Jeremy Sams’ English translation of Mozart’s Singspiel, we are invited to picture “an ideal world where deceit and lying would cease . . . A world at war will fight no more.”
The two composers clearly had similar visions of heaven on earth. Both draped their creed in music of astonishing simplicity – music that has become so familiar that we take its directness and beauty for granted. In that context, something special must be happening in English National Opera’s season-opener to make Mozart’s ideal world cross the footlights with such appealing freshness. Most productions drape The Magic Flute in gags and contrivances that smother the work’s themes – the desire to break free from iniquity and ignorance, the notion of trial and purification on the journey of life. But here, in the unobtrusive framework of Bob Crowley’s sets, is a performance that lets the text speak and the music weave its magic, while offering the sort of warm-hearted entertainment the work’s authors always knew would be the key to its success.
Even the casting makes one believe in a better world, for most of the singers are young talents. Kathryn Lewek’s Queen of Night sails through her arias with clarity, colour, sparkle and a seamless line. Duncan Rock is the tall, personable Papageno, a classy singer and a real charmer. Elena Xanthoudakis’s Pamina sounds better and better as the night goes on, Shawn Mathey turns Tamino into a heroic tenor and Barnaby Rea’s Second Priest boasts a commanding presence and a rich bass voice. They are balanced by the experience of Robert Lloyd’s Sarastro and Adrian Thompson’s Monostatos. All are corralled by Nicholas Collon in a breezy, if not especially distinctive, reading of the score. Now, imagine all opera revivals were as uplifting as this . . .