Die Zauberflöte, K620 – Singspiel in two Acts to a libretto by Emanuel Schikaneder [sung in German with English surtitles]
Pamina – Camilla Harris
Tamino – Peter Harris
Sarastro – Ossian Huskinson
Queen of the Night – Camilla Saba Davies
Speaker – Niall Anderson
First Lady – Clare Tunney
Second Lady – Giulia Laudano
Third Lady – Silja Elsabet Brynjarsdottir
Monostatos – Ryan Williams
Papageno – James Geidt
Papagena – Samantha Quillish
First Armoured Man / Second Priest – Robert Forrest
Second Armoured Man / First Priest – Andrew Johnston
First Owl – Rachel Ridout
Second Owl – Alexandra Beason
Third Owl – Lucy Thalange
Chorus of Royal Academy Opera
Royal Academy Sinfonia
Director – Andrew Sinclair
Designer – Laura Jane Stanfield
Lighting designer – Kevin Treacy
Reviewed by: Alexander Campbell
Reviewed: 13 November, 2019
Venue: Susie Sainsbury Theatre, Royal Academy of Music
It is always great to visit the various music colleges of the UK and to see fresh and engaging performances of sometimes unusual operas performed by the up and coming singers likely soon to grace our major stages and companies. Tackling a popular yet tricky work such as Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte could be seen as a rather brave undertaking, but with a refreshing directorial take on the work, simple-yet-effective designs and a wonderfully fleet account of the score, the Royal Academy Opera does themselves proud in their newly and beautifully renovated theatre space. As for the singing and performances they show some major talents lurking not entirely in the wings.
We see an enactment of a past relationship between Sarastro and the Queen of the Night during the Overture. A couple in love, getting married and all going well until he gifts her his emblem of power and she develops an all-consuming hunger for using it for authoritarian purpose. He wrests the device from her and their enmity and her desire for revenge begins. The context helps bring depth to the narrative and these potentially rather stock characters. There were other interesting touches, often presented with some nice humour – such as the variances of opinion about Sarastro’s plans for his order amongst his followers. No rubber-stamping of the leadership’s policies here. Some of the designs, particularly costuming, helped place the work firmly in a German romantic fairy tale tradition, suggesting strong precursor elements to works such as Weber’s Euryanthe and Wagner’s Lohengrin and Parsifal. The three ladies have some distinctly Valkyrie-like qualities here. Within this context the action is played relatively conventionally, with no fudging of the essential stage thrills of moments such as the opening serpent attack and the magical effects of the flute and bells, although the transformation of the three boys into three owls was a curious idea. The orchestra sounded extraordinarily well in the space; the woodwind and low strings emerge with clarity and ideal warmth. Gareth Hancock’s conducting is alert, singer-friendly and has a distinctive lightness of touch – only the duet of the two armoured men feels a tad pushed in terms of tempo.
There was some truly excellent singing. Ossian Huskinson’s sonorous and generous bass and strong stage presence make his Sarastro a rounded very human creation, and he projected his dialogue well. Similarly, Camilla Saba Davies’s Queen of the Night, intriguingly costumed as something akin to a dragonfly, has vocal confidence, technical brilliance, emotional depth and a wonderfully malevolent Ortrud-esque quality to it. Both arias were smashing. Tamino is a hard part to portray. He must be an ardent idealistic and honest lover-prince and yet not be too dry a contrast to Pagageno. Peter Harris manages this very well indeed, his singing both honeyed and heroic as occasion demands.
James Geidt’s safari-suited pith-helmeted Papageno is full of genial baritonal warmth and charm; his engaging interactions with the audience nicely judged. His Papagena, Samantha Quillish, has such effervescence it leaves one wishing she had more to do and sing. The trios of ladies and owls were balanced and strong, particularly the ladies. Camilla Harris’s Pamina was also a fine assumption. She caught the pathos of the fiendish yet simple-sounding ‘Ach, ich fühl’s, es ist verschwunden’ well and her singing of it gets better and better as it progresses. Also notable are Ryan Williams’s seedy Monostatos and Niall Anderson’s suave Speaker. The chorus sings with generous fullness of sound. All the cast sang and spoke their German with remarkable and natural-sounding inflection and clarity – and syncing with the surtitles was excellent. An absorbing and enjoyable evening.