The Magic Flute - Mozart
Icelandic Opera Harpa Concert Hall, Reykjavík
by Neil Jones | Opera Now magazine | December, 2011
This was the first fully staged production by Icelandic Opera in its new permanent home – the unique, acoustically impressive but theatrically challenging Harpa Concert Hall.
Harpa isn't actually a theatre at all: for instance, there is no fly-tower nor any stage wings. So the hall is not, on the face of it, an ideal home for an opera company. There was a palpable apprehension at Icelandic Opera over this first 'in Harpa' production, but they needn't have worried.
Musically this Magic Flute was always likely to be nothing less than excellent, for two reasons. First, most of the Icelandic Opera orchestra is drawn from members of the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra, the only full-time professional classical orchestra in Iceland, drawing the finest talent from this immensely musical nation. Second, the Artec-designed acoustic of the concert hall is outstanding.
Conducted by Daniel Bjarnason, the opening moments seemed a trifle hesitant on the first night but thereafter things became more crisp and confident. Vocally, Icelanders' pride in their cultural traditions make them more inclined to use native singers, directors and designers. Such is the depth of talent (extraordinary for a nation of only 318,000 people) that most of the leading singers could, and often do, hold their own on the world stage.
Þóra Einarsdóttir was pert as Pamina with a fabulously bright voice, as distinctive as her monstrous bright-red outfit. Finnur Bjarnason was a splendid Tamino, warm and smooth-voiced, while Ágúst Ólafsson as Papageno improved as the night went on. He has a terrific voice easily matched by a strong acting performance.
Jóhann Smári Sævarsson as Sarastro was a particular highlight; Sigrún Hjálmtýsdóttir as Queen of the Night was a little disappointing; she simply didn't look or sound scary enough. Unlike Snorri Wium as Monostatos, who seemed unnervingly comfortable as a sort of refugee from a Heavy Metal rock band.
Given the Harpa Hall's limited scope for theatre, designer Ágústa Skúladóttir had to work hard to create an effective set. She exceeded expectations, placing four massive gold and silver tree trunks at the sides of the stage, with giant curtains at the rear through which were visible a series of projected art works. But it was the imaginative lighting that really made the show: strong white spots from side and top together with rich reds and purples, creating a truly magical kingdom. Costumes, too, were outstanding, and there were some superb theatrical touches, such as the half dozen or so purple-clad mini Mozarts running about, moving props and even supporting the rope that Papageno uses when attempting to hang himself.
Icelandic Opera should be proud of this production. It showed that despite the restrictions of their new home, the company can create a superbly entertaining staging. But while this approach works well with ‘fantasy' operas such as Magic Flute, something requiring a more prosaic set with buildings and interiors – especially several different ones in a single opera – may be more of a challenge. I suspect, though, that they'll rise to it.
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