Pared down, sparse, back to basics – Peter Brook and his famous Bouffes du Nord’s interpretation of “Magic Flute” is far from the elegant, opulent affair that is Mozart’s famous opera. And, surprisingly, this concept of overlapping the realms of theatre and opera truly takes flight on the Barbican Stage.
One is never quite sure what to expect when entering the realm of the legend that is a Bouffe du Nord production. I was skeptical to see how this musical masterpiece would be reduced down to one piano and seven voices- and all within an hour and a half and no interval.
Yet all of the minimalistic parts fit so very well together as to make a magnificent whole. The juxtaposition of the pieces sung in the original German with interspersed spoken conversations in French added the texture required by the shortening of the story. The three witches are missing and in their place appear, as if by magic, two spirits who masterfully manipulate the simplistic, yet effective set of bamboo sticks and very little else. A setting which leaves a lot to the imagination. It is these two spirits who, with the greatest attention to physical detail, guide us along the narrative in a very nonchalant French style. The lighting by Philippe Vialatte is subtlety effective in differentiating the forest, Sarastro’s realm, and the Queen of the Night’s lair.
The voices of the singers are not perfect, but in the theme of simplicity, this feels excusable. Papagano was pleasantly underplayed, and cleverly executed. Many boisterous interpretations of Papagano have come and gone, but this performance portrayed a lasting wit and breadth of character. The real show stealers however were certainly the two light-footed spirits, clad in white, who added a sense of magic, irony, and intimacy to the scene.
Do not be fooled however, this is very much a Brook production with Mozart melodies. If you are an operatic purist, then this is not the production for you. If, however, you are willing to to see a re imagining of a classic opera then this production is an absolute must-see. Arguably one of the greatest directors of our age, Brook once again presents us with a sensory experience that surprises in the unexpected and makes us withdraw so far into this world of make-believe that we find ourselves encapsulated with the nascent, altruistic belief of a child.