One knew one was in for a treat as soon as the curtain went up. Each side of the stage had three doors, one behind the other in a descending perspective, and as well as the fantastic singing and Mozart's classic score, what became clear was the ETO's amazing attention to detail. In the first productions in Mozart's day, apparently they were full of trapdoors, special effects and other highly theatrical features. And this production was truly in that early spirit of total theatre. The singers, who were all fine actors and dancers as well! leapt out of doors, things appeared from trapdoors in the floor, there was a projected action screen at the back, to highlight the mythical dimension of Sarastro's dungeon, and altogether it was a marvellous spectacle.
In the shorter version, the monsters in the forest were personified by a delightful dragon with rope LEDs for a body. In this version, spirits of the forest were personified in dark and dramatic purple and black themed ball-wear, and it was all by sinister hint and shadowy suggestion. One of the most effective visual effects was (oddly enough) the standard lamps which swayed up through the trapdoors...and yet those, and most of the other effects and visuals, fitted perfectly with the bizarre fanciful plot. The Queen of the Night and Papageno were especially excellent, and the Ladies of the Queen of the Night too - but all the singers were fantastic. Being before Easter, it's too far away for a proper 'review', but a short tribute to the ETO seemed appropriate - indeed necessary, as they rely on sponsors and donors as well as ticket sales and grants. Don't miss them! They bring opera to even those who don't like opera. On one of their schools workshops, there mission was summed up by one school pupil who said - 'Before I came here, I thought opera singers were really sad...now I know they're really cool.'
Past productions include a matchless Carmen, with a never-to-be-forgotten theatre moment when all the market sellers came forward and tried to sell their goods to the audience, getting angry with us for not buying, stamping their feet, tossing their heads, and going off elsewhere - a true 'slice of life' opera scene. The tragedy that still felt life-affirming at the end... Then Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream, with Oberon the counter tenor being absolutely entrancing...and the whole thing making sense of Britten's remarkable but challenging score. The ETO's mission is vital to introduce those who live outside large cities, aren't flash with cash or don't know why opera's important, to the wonders of the artform. Exeter is always especially lucky, as reading their review of past tours, apparently the most difficult are the theatres they come to year after year at Malvern and Exeter which are 'a real squeeze' with barely elbow room for their superb orchestra! How can one thank them enough for making the effort and turning smaller cities and towns into centres of cultural wonder? Long live the ETO!