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Magic Flute at the Royal Opera House

May 9, 2013

What a life I lead. Third time in as many days that I am in the West End and going to a performance. This time it is highbrow. Not my natural metier, but one that I have gradually embraced with the diligent encouragement of my husband who is a fan of classical music and opera. I, on the other hand, enjoy diddly-dee music and all singing all dancing showstoppers.

And so it was after a day spent indoors, I emerged in to to sunlit warmth and hailed a cab. “To the Opera House my man, and step on it!” My cabbie entertained me for the 40 minutes we were in jam packed central London. A second-generation Indian (“I’m English, not white”, “Nah, never been to India. I’m not in to all that roots shit. Can’t be arsed.”), who had spent time serving in the Army under Will Carling’s Dad, then as a holiday rep in Majorca, Club 18 -30s and as a Red Coat at Butlins, (“Ooh, Butlins was the worst. Full on orgy all the time. Didn’t matter how ugly you was.”), travelled with The Firm as a football thug for years, and had written to the Royal Opera House when it got given £250 million from the lottery fund for refurbishment. “I said none of your punters ever buys lottery tickets. It’s people like us what buy lottery tickets so if I send you ten dud tickets can you give me a half price seat? But they never even wrote back.” Whereupon he launched in to a rather credible impression of a toff dismissing a pleb.
And I alighted on Bow Street and tripped up the stairs to the wonderful Paul Hamlyn Hall, where, as a friend so rightly says, all wine tastes better. It is a beautiful conservatory (where Covent Garden flower market used to be) and now it is more conservatoire I suppose. In tune with the environs, the champagne is already poured as I reach the bar and we dog a glass or two down before heading in.
Standards of the announcements have definitley slipped over the years. They used to be a highlight – akin to listening to Dave Lamb on come dine with me – as the accent was so plummy and the way they pronounced the names of the Operas in their original language truly enlightening and entertaining. Unfortunately now this job seems to have gone to a mediocre news announcer from Surbiton. Perhaps in an effort to be less alienating for the masses, but they would do better to lower the ticket prices if they really want to welcome ordinary folk.
But this one was worth the high price. The sets and costumes were incredible. The orchestra, as ever, is worth the price of a ticket. And then there is Simon Keenlysides playing Papageno. A physical comedy role that he is brilliant in. Not to mention his wonderful wonderful voice. I imagine Mozart was on drugs when he came up with the story. It is mental, but it doesn’t matter. it is an excuse for bizarre characters, pointless quests and perhaps reflects the evolution from boy to man. Who knows? Who cares? The first half was fabulous, the second dipped in the middle but it is always an occasion to go to the opera. I’ll give this one three and a half stars.
About 5 years ago we saw my favourite ever version. By a South African company and the orchestra were all marimbas. It was reinterpreeted with a South African theme and was absolutely mind blowing. Fantastic dancing, comedy and great joy. A real uplifter. And if I’d thought about it I would have added it to my 5 star review list.

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