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Kennet Opera - The Magic Flute

13th to 15th November 2008.

From the Newbury Weekly News.

Lodged in the 21st-century

Kennet Opera: The Magic Flute, at The Corn Exchange, Newbury, from Thursday, November 13 to Saturday, November 15

For its annual production, Kennet Opera took one of Mozart's most popular operas and gave it a fresh, contemporary treatment.

A new producer (Karen Poulson), director (Oonagh Dockley) and musical director (Ed Lambert) have taken over this year, with Ed Lambert also writing a new arrangement for the production. Under his direction, the nine-piece orchestra added a generous and sympathetic dimension to the opera, which was sung in English.

You can make your own mind up as to whether Masonic ideas and references underlie the plot; this production took them as read, with the Fellowship a dead ringer for a Masonic lodge. Not in question, of course, is the opera's theme: good triumphs over evil, the powers of darkness are vanquished, the baddies get their just desserts, and love wins out in the end, so everyone goes home happy.

The set was busy post-modern eclectic - with some nice contemporary touches: in the opening scene Tamino, on his gap year, had fallen asleep in front of the telly; the picture given to him of Pamina was framed in shocking-pink fur; and Monostatos usually had a mobile phone clasped to his ear. The flaming torches were impressive, and I particularly enjoyed the set dressing for the Fellowship scenes. Its logo looked disturbingly half-Masonic and half-high street bank, with the bright green light in its meeting place bringing to mind a building society touting for business in the credit crunch. Befitting an era of economic meltdown, Tamino arrived to carry out his trials-for-love in a business suit, like a former Lehman's employee looking for another job.

Inspired modern-dress costuming set the tone for the production. The three Ladies were glitzy vamps, in tight purple jackets, black pencil skirts and retro sunglasses; the three Spirits, bedecked with garlands, wore flouncy skirts and zinging green tops; the two 'men in armour' were Mafia look-alikes, with sharp suits, violin cases and shades; lecherous Monostatos wore a dodgy double-breasted suit; and the chorus, in gym gear, were led by Sarastro, who was dressed for a round of judo.

A glance at the cast's biographies gives an idea of the quality of voices Kennet Opera now attracts. Noteworthy among the principals were Olivia Hinman, whose sweetly accurate voice made for an affecting Pamina; X-Factor Ben Thapa (Tamino) was her earnest lover; and Fiona Whitehead (Queen of the Night) showed vocal range and dramatic ability.

Guy Edwards was a star turn: in green wellies, hat with a feather, and gamekeeper's bag on his shoulder, he gave a fine comic performance as Papageno. Ian Caddy was outstanding as Sarastro, his professional experience evident in his vocal clarity and control, and his assured but quiet stage presence.