Review of The Magic Flute by Garry Fraser

" This innovative company are trailblazing a path in adapting works for Gaelic or Scots language" writes Garry Fraser.

I have seen many adaptations of opera – modern dress, modern scenery, modern interpretation – but never have I seen an opera where the dialogue and lyrics are transformed into another language. Surely a step too far, but one taken comfortably by the Scots Opera Project. This innovative company are trailblazing a path in adapting works for Gaelic or Scots language, and it’s a path that’s completely unwavering, as Wednesday’s performance of Mozart’s Magic Flute in Perth Theatre proved. The setting was also unusual, the action taking place in an asylum. Most importantly, Mozart’s music suffered nothing in the translation of the original lyrics to the Scots language.

I didn’t know whether to be shaken or stirred, but in the end I was neither. I was extremely impressed, not only in the skill of translation of Schikaneder by Dr Michael Dempster but by the authoritative ease it was carried out by the company. This was another winner by the organisers of the Perth Festival of the Arts – an unlikely one, I would’ve thought, but in the end a deserved one.

Familiar faces in the cast and small accompanying ensemble helped to ease any misgivings. I’ve seen the likes of Douglas Nairne and Catriona Clark many times and the accompaniment qualities of Feargus Hetherington and Gordon Cree are well-known throughout the Scottish musical scene. Although the entire cast deserve plaudits, Douglas’ characterisation of Papageno stood not just for this comedic timing for his all-round stage presence. His final scene with Papagena was terrific. Pamina was played by Catriona and she might have stolen the show for her act two aria – not “might”, as she certainly did – but David Douglas (Tamino) wasn’t far behind in terms of vocal excellence.

Colleen Nicoll wasn’t merely a cameo part – even in abridged versions of Mozart’s classic opera, the Queen of the Night role is a prominent one and her top-C-top-D aria was carried out with ease. She was the ideal “baddie” in this production, and any similarity to Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was not, I’m sure, completely coincidental.

Take a bow the rest of the principals and the enthusiastic community chorus for a complete treat. It might have been only two 45-minute acts but in this case, quality takes precedence over quantity. If you want to hear words like “wheesht” and “lassie” in a Mozartian context, there’s a chance to see this excellent production on Sunday at 2.30, same venue.