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Allen’s Magic touch with Mozart at Hackney Empire

13 June, 2019 — By Michael White

Sir Thomas Allen (above right) in rehearsals with assistant director Peter Lorenz; below: Julia Sitkovetsky as the Queen of the Night

Much-loved veteran singer Sir Thomas Allen doesn’t go onstage so much these days, and when he does it’s in cameo roles that give little sense of the great all-round performer he once was. But he hasn’t left the business.

For some years now he’s been directing opera, very successfully; and one of his hits comes to the Hackney Empire next week when Scottish Opera bring down The Magic Flute he first staged for them in Glasgow six years ago.

It is, as he says, a decidedly Glaswegian show in that it re­thinks Mozart’s scenario in terms of the city’s culture and plays on a set “that represents the engine room of a ship on Clydeside”. Which perhaps sounds radical.

But Allen’s stagings are never perverse. He’s been on the receiving end of crazy directors for long enough to know better than demand absurd things of his singers. And if that edges his shows toward conservatism, they usually serve the music impec­cably without short-changing the drama.

“Yes I know what singers have to go through,” he tells me, “but I’ve too much respect for theatre to fall back on routine. When I direct I’m trying to make sense of why these people are doing what they do, why they’re singing, and where you find the truth in it.

“I hope that comes across in the Flute. We’ve got some fantastic singers. And I’ll be there to support them – taking time off from my garden which is one of the joys of reaching a certain age.

“In 50 years of endless touring I’ve always planted things and never been here to see them grow. Now I am, and I love it. Though I suppose I love Mozart even more.”

• The Magic Flute, 7.30pm, £10-£44, June 20 and 21. Hackney Empire, 291 Mare Street, Hackney E8 1EJ, 020 8985 2424, hackneyempire.co.uk

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