Albert Combrink was the vocal coach and repetiteur for a very unusual version of Mozart’s ever popular Die Zauberflöte, K. 620 presented in English as The Magic Flute at various theatres across the world, including the Duke of York’s Theatre in 2007.

Winner of the Laurence Olivier Award (2008) for Best Musical Revival and the Theatre Goers’ Choice Award, The Magic Flute is played in a township setting, encompassing the various languages of the nation including English.

The following review is by Timothy Ramsden of the performance 29 November at Young Vic Theatre, just before the production transferred to London’s West end for a series of sold-out performances.

Magical and magnificent.

Mozart on marimbas. A band of them, under conductor Mandisi Dyantyis. Played by people who smile. And dance. And act. If Impempe Yomlingo, or ‘The Magic Flute’, doesn’t make you want to give up Covent Garden entirely, it certainly won’t have you reaching for your ENOs. And if Mozart’s spinning in his grave, it’ll be because he’s dancing along.

After an Overture whose lighter tones sound especially delightful on the instruments, there’s singing stronger than many musical stages in this country offer. And this company don’t need to be strapped up to microphones to reach out round the auditorium.

Then there’s Pauline Malefane’s Queen of the Night, a short role with high notes. Incredibly high ones, and Malefane hits them more surely than some top opera company divas have managed. It would be enough to expect of anyone – let alone an actor who’s also playing Scrooge in this South African company’s other show, derived from Dickens’ Christmas Carol.

Thozamo Mdliva as Papagena & Zamile Gantana as Papageno brought the house down with their comic antics.

The Young Vic say this is suitable for 10+ (adults included), but younger-looking children seemed transfixed by the colour and activity of Mark Dornford-May’s production. Anyway, the Flute’s about as near to pantomime as opera gets: it opens with a dragon (here, massive leaping flames), has a magical queen, imprisoned princess and a cowardly birdcatcher as comic sidekick. And, of course, a magic flute, its sound equated here to a jazzy trumpet.

While relating the action to Xhosa rites-of-passage, Dornford-May plays up the pantomimic, as a bunch of toughs prance gently under the influence of a magic music-box (its sound created by musical bottles tapped with spoons), or furrily pink-clad guides helping Tamino on his way.

Mozart’s music transforms the Flute. But the most sublime number is shared between the princess-heroine and the earthy Papageno. Here it’s accompanied by the rhythm of softly-clapped hands. It sounds ridiculous – no, it sounds absolutely lovely, even if it’s right without any obvious reason.

Whether playing Mozart straight, or infecting his music with South African rhythms, this never cheapens, always delights. With A Christmas Carol playing in repertoire, the Young Vic has imported a golden seasonal double.”

Review originally published Dec 01 2007 at Reviewsgate.

The production team for Magic Flute:

Director: Mark Dornford-May
Lighting: Mannie Manim.
Choreographer: Lungelo Ngamlana.
Costume: Leigh Bishop, Annamarie Seegers.
Repetiteur, music- and vocal coach: Albert Combrink.
Voice coach: Lesley Manim.
Assistant directors: Simeilia Hodge-Dallaway, Gbolahan Obisesan.