On Saturday, I took myself to West Green House near Hook in Hampshire for a performance of The Magic Flute. I hadn’t there before and surely its gardens (National Trust) - both landscaped and formal must be some of the most stunning in Britain, especially the magical lighting after dark.
West Green is home to one of this country’s many garden opera projects - housed in this case in a huge and imaginative marquee behind the formal gardens. The season has already Included La Serva Padrona and Gianni Schicchi with The Threepenny Opera and (Gounod’s) Romeo and Juliet still to come.
But The Magic Flute was different. It was West Green House Opera’s first partnership with Garsington Opera and featured Garsington Opera Emerging Artists, part of the latter’s rapidly developing education work. That is why I was there, wearing my education hat, as it were, although my Mozart lover’s hat is never far away and if there’s a Mozart opera in the offing I don’t normally need asking twice.
This fresh, vibrant youthful Magic Flute was a splendid showcase for the work of highly talented artists at the beginning of their careers - backstage as well as on stage.
One of the show’s stars, for example, is the best Magic Flute serpent I’ve ever seen. It spirals out of a round hole at the back of Bernadette Roberts’s entrancing primary colours set and has a gorgeous puppet head with illuminated eyes. It’s a nice idea too to set the opera loosely in the 1960s with perky frocks, hippy clothes for men, coloured feathers and lots of fragrant candles and onstage lights hinting at hallucinogenic drugs.
Mary Bevan, whom I also saw as a fine Zerlina in Don Giovanni at Garsington (at Wormsley) itself this summer, sings Pamina with mature dynamic, control and plenty of depth. She is ably partnered by Joshua Mills as Tamino whose tenor sound has luscious warmth and a smile in the voice. The generally gentle tempi set by James Burton in the pit mean that both singers can place every note with thoughtful accuracy especially in the duets.
Richard Latham, mercurial, insouciant and funny, is very successful as Papageno. And his phrasing in the duet he sings with Papagena (a pleasing performance by Nathalie Chalkey) when they eventually get together in Act 2 is outstanding.
Karen Gillingham, who is in charge of Garsington’s education work, is an imaginative director, making entertaining use of the auditorium as well as the stage to give her performers plenty to do and to develop their skills.
It was a lovely evening. I left, to head home to Kent, head full of Mozartian delights, reflecting on what a lot of very talented young people there are out there ready to grab the baton. And what an imaginative scheme to give invaluable experience not only to the young cast but also to music and production staff as well as stage management, crew, wardrobe and lighting people. Well done, Garsington. Well done, West Green.