Composer: Mozart Director: Netia Jones Conductor: Christian Curnyn Garsington Opera, Wormsley Estate, Buckinghamshire (01865-361636). Until 21 July Running time: 4hrs 10mins (including interval)
The Magic Flute can sometimes leave me cold, said Mark Valencia on What’s On Stage. Mozart’s music is of course “divine”, but the plotting is so “daft” that (paradoxically) I relish each new staging to see how the director will solve its problems. And the good news is that Netia Jones’s new production at Garsington is “a corker” – a “lavishly costumed summer entertainment” that may prove “eminently revivable” in years to come. Jones embraces the opera’s “madness, and channels it through dystopian visual tropes that will ring bells with viewers of The Handmaid’s Tale and Twin Peaks”. Minor characters have been turned into malfunctioning automatons; others into “nattily dressed” clones. It may sound odd, but it works a treat, and the musical side of things is an “unalloyed delight”, as Christian Curnyn stirs the Garsington Opera Orchestra & Chorus to “exuberant heights” and galvanises a “wonderfully distinguished cast”.
Standouts include Benjamin Hulett, who gives us “the most forcefully sung” Tamino we’ve heard in years, said Michael Church in The Independent. Jonathan Mcgovern’s charismatic Papageno is a “lovely character study in peasant wit and wisdom”. And as Queen of the Night, Sen Guo hits her high notes with “laser-like accuracy”. In addition there are “plenty of laughs”, the costumes are “stylish and inventive”, and there’s a “brilliant visual coup de théâtre”, suggesting the triumph of light over darkness. I was less sure, though, of the decision to set the second act in a Masonic lodge – in my view it simply detracts from the work’s “sublime mystery”.
I wasn’t convinced that Jones had really cracked this “strange creature” of an opera or captured its “anarchic, elusive” quality, said Alexandra Coghlan on The Arts Desk. She may have subdued “its more stubborn difficulties”, but at times it felt like an overthought “gender studies seminar” of a show. Still, this is one of the “handsomest” productions yet mounted at the festival’s Wormsley home – and it boasts “as strong a cast as Garsington has ever fielded”.