18 AUGUST 1967, Page 18

Fliptop Flute


Mozart has us all by the ankle. Every time I think I'm getting away he yanks me back. The itew Magic Flute at Sadler's Wells (where the `autumn' season opened a month earlier than usual on a steamy August night) and Glynde- bourne's Don Giovanni, translated for a Proms performance, have given us a lot to chew over on production problems, including how rmich may be done with little, how little is•sometinies done with much and whether some of the things our grandfathers (not to mention librettists and composers) thought worth achieving need be bothered about at all.

The last point I will deal with right away. Although not one to bite the carpet if Gram, warhorse, sixteen hands, doesn't hoof it out of a Rhine barge in Gotterdammerung or the gods don't troop over a rainbow bridge made of per- apex in Rheingold, I would say, on the whole, that in these matters grandfather is right in his chumbling way. While the outside world is so mad on accepted symbols and so cluttered with them that we can't see the truth for the trees, opera of the newish sort throws accepted ones out of the window; and who's to be sure there's any truth at all when we have no accepted sym- bols to cling to?

In traditional productions tenor-hero Tamino, while earnestly searching for truth, virtue and purity (in parts Schikaneder's text, if all of it Was his, smells mustily of ethical church), walks boldly up to the doors of three temples which, as we know from the words that used to be written over them, symbolise Nature, Reason and Wisdom. At Sadler's Wells there are no temples, little wisdom or reason and no doors-at all except one concealed so artfully in the centre of a decorative 'flat' that it might have been devised for some old-fashioned illusionist act. Instead of temples there are pretty, pendant patterns of Sam .Kirkpatrick's designing. Every-

thing resolves Itself a sequence of time- saving flats and screens. Down they come, up they go, and down come others in their place —with much the same effect as before. Never, at appropriate moments, do they suggest hereditament, roof over heads. When our pre- sent Tamino, John Wakefield, does his bold walk-up and informs the decorations that he aspires to Goodness and Enlightenment fOr his sweetheart Pamina's sake, we are even more flabbergasted than he when the decorations chorus at him: 'Stand back!' or, as Adrian Mitchell's translation has it, 'Go back!'

Mr Kirkpatrick gives us many fetching de- tails and oddities. The monster in scene one, built on the liries of a pantomime horse and good enough for a colour engraving, lollops about amiably, wouldn't harm a fly and falls apart. Scour the wardrobes as far back as feasible; you'll - never come upon a toffier Monostatos costume or anything to outdo the cross-legged posture of the Three Genii and the Japanesy helmets and robes they wear when sailing airborne across the stage to save Pamina from herself. But, viewing the night as a whole, we never get much illusion of place or, more importantly, of change from place to place. Rocky glade, bedchamber, vault, hall and grove amount to little more than different aspects of the same elegant, homesy-gardensy pleasaunce —an arrangement good for quick scene changes (important in an opera which looks on paper like lasting until two in the morning) but fatal to the Flute's sense of warring magics, com- munities and worlds.

On opening night Mr Wakefield and Rae Woodland (Queen of the Night), both singers of proved and attractive metal, were so badly off form that I went again two nights later but found them little improved. Mid-August jinx? The core of the cast is completed by a promising Papageno (Alan Charles) who sang a bit sharp, a Pamina (Margaret Curphey) who came well through `Ach, ich NM's' and a Sarastro (Clifford Grant) with the right size and grain of voice. I cannot but think that vocally there's a much better Flute in this listing than we have heard so far.

Over now to Don Giovanni at the Proms. From where I sat, halfway along back row, H Block, the singers seemed to go miles away and get glue in their throats every time they turned their backs. Some of John Pritchard's tempi, lively at Glyndebourne, tended to fuss in the Albert Hall. Mr Montarsolo, whose comic gift is no more to be denied—or squashed.— than his serviceable baritone quality, ran away uproariously with whole lumps of the show. The arena, including a high ratio who knew their way about the Italian words, looked and listened insistently for laughs; they were un- bridled even in the Cemetery scene, where, as it seems to me and one or two more, Mozart sets out to straighten our faces and make hair stand on end. I have heard many a better sung Giovanni. But never, here's the odd, delightful thing, one that I enjoyed more.

A point qUickly came at which ihe GioVanni (Mr Paskalis), the Elvira`(Miss Zylis-Gaia), the Zerlina (Sheila Armstrong) and the Masetto (Mr Monreale) seabed illumined and liberated from the trundling, rather garish sets we saw at Glyndebourne rather than handicapped for Want of them. Instead of giving us a stage fall after being fatally pinked, the Commendatore, MK Rintzler, wearing a fixed, waxen expression under spotlight, paced and exited slowly back- wards down the platform ramp—a more effec- tive concomitant to the chromatic droop in the orchestra than many a conventional stage death I have seen. His return up the ramp as Stone guest didn't give me quite the same creeps. But (thought of the poor.show most 'prop' statues make, whether in• cemetery or on hell's brink; and was comforted. It is true that Mr Rintzler, like the two other 'gents' of the piece, wore white tie and all that goes with it. (Masetto and his fellow peasants wore dinner jackets to show they knew their places.) But what of that? This Was a Giovanni that triumphed even over tails. Perhaps the size and cordiality of the 'house' had something to do with the case. A transient pile-up of 7,000 Prommers can breathe some- thing of their own into a timeless masterpiece. A•colleague of mine on one of the dailies with- drew at half time, preferring to hear the rest on the air. It takes all sorts to make a world.