28 JUNE 1940, Page 14


" The Magic Flute " at Sadler's Wells THE revival of Mozart's The Magic Flute last week brought back into the repertory of the Sadler's Wells Opera a great masterpiece and one most apt to our time. No other opera sets forth more clearly the noblest ideals of the human mind and the power of man's will to overcome the forces of evil and to survive triumphantly the ordeals of personal sorrow and of fear. If I may offer my own experience, I would say that two things served to restore equanimity and faith so deeply shaken (why deny it?) by the events of last week. One was the letter from a missing airman so opportunely published in The Times on the day after the announcement of the French collapse and the other this performance of The Magic Flute.

Tamino and Pamina are the types of what is best in human nature, deceived at first, as most of us have been, by the seeming-fair outward aspect of evil, but ready to sacrifice everything for the sake of their faith and the integrity of their own souls. Even the details of their story fit our common experience today, and we may see them asy day at any railway station facing the ordeal of separation with a high and smiling courage that is not made less grand by the substitution of a drab background for the romantic temple of Sarastro. And in Papageno is summed up the innate good humour of the ordinary, less aspiring man, not above deceit or ashamed to show fear, but at the core sound and courageous.

It is always astonishing, however often the experience comes, to find how deep into human spirit this music of The Magic Flute, yoked to pantomime as silly and inconsistent as could be imagined, can take us. For it is the music that translates Schikaneder's dross into gold, lifting even the fooling of a clown on to a ]cane where the particular and ephemeral becomes universal and immortal. Professor Dent's translation of the libretto, no doubt, helps, giving to the text a literary quality that is hardly to be found in the original and embel- lishing mere knockabout with a pointed wit.

The performance was, in many respects, as good as any I have seen. Miss Cross's Famine has long been one of the outstanding musical performances of our day. Through beauty of tone and phras- ing it attains a perfect serenity, and when emotional expression is needed, it is made all the more telling by restraint.. But good Famines are not so rare as good Taminos, and Mr. David Lloyd is, indeed, a valuable addition to the cast. He matched Miss Cross in suppleness of phrasing and freedom of tone, and he bore himself with dignity after that first ignominious scene, of which I am afraid the terror can never be adequately conveyed.

Mr. Stear made a noble Sarastro, and though his voice has no great resonance on the exceptional low notes, his singing was smooth and spacious. At the other end of the gamut Miss Naylor was less success- ful, and it was sometimes diffioult to tell what was coloratura and what was unsteadiness in her singing of the music of the Queen of the Night. Mr. Austin repeated his admirably comic performance of Papageno, giving him liveliness of character without fidgetiness. There was an excellent trio of ladies and a charming trio of boys. It has been remarked that the latter sometimes sang a bit out of tune. Of course they did (bless them!) on their first public appearance on the stage, but the pure, dear quality of their tone produced exactly the right effect that can never be attained by adult female voices. Mr. Collingwood conducted the performance finely, though occasion- ally with less sense of spaciousness than the temple-scenes require, and the new production was admirable in spite of some sacrifices to