The Royal Opera – David McVicar’s production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, with Bernhard Richter & Huw Montague Rendall, conducted by Hartmut Haenchen

Die Zauberflöte, K620 – Singspiel in two acts to a libretto by Emanuel Schikaneder [sung in German with English surtitles]


Tamino – Bernhard Richter
First Lady – Alexandra Lowe
Second Lady – Hanna Hipp
Third Lady – Stephanie Wake-Edwards
Papageno – Huw Montague Rendall
Queen of the Night – Brenda Rae
First Boy – Rafael Flutter
Second Boy – Yanis Charafi
Third Boy – Victor Wiggin
Pamina – Salome Jicia
Monostatos – Michael Colvin
Speaker of the Temple – Jochen Schmeckenbecher
Sarastro – Krzysztof Baczyk
First Priest – Harry Nicoll
Second Priest – Donald Maxwell
Pagagena – Haegee Lee
First Man in Armour – Alan Pingarron
Second Man in Armour – James Platt

Royal Opera Chorus

Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
Hartmut Haenchen

Sir David McVicar – Director
Daniel Dooner – Revival director
John Macfarlane – Designer
Paule Constable – Lighting designer
Leah Hausman – Movement director
Angelo Smimmo – Revival movement director

4 of 5 stars

Reviewed by: Peter Reed

Reviewed: 15 September, 2021
Venue: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London

Sir David McVicar’s stagings of this opera of Mozart’s and of Le nozze di Figaro have become Covent Garden classics, gifts that keep on giving since they were first seen in 2003 and 2006, respectively. Die Zauberflöte was back for its ninth revival, and with the large cast and chorus it was thrilling to have The Royal Opera back in business.

The great strength of the McVicar production is that it embraces everything from solemn grandeur, to heart-stopping love-story, to broad and low comedy, everything from opera seria at its most seria to look-behind-you panto. It takes the rapid changes of focus in its stride, so in John Macfarlane’s astute period designs we get the Enlightenment at its most lofty and morally ambiguous – the brief scene with the Speaker and his orrery signalling profound scientific inquiry; Tamino’s path to wisdom illuminated by great balls of enlightenment fire as he makes his way through the auditorium to vanish, like Alice in Wonderland, through a hole in the stage’s front curtain during the Overture – up against magnificent puppets of a giant serpent and a very funny and greedy bird. The impressive movement of great slabs of baroque architecture allow scenes to merge silently into each other with minimum fuss, the direction of the chorus adds the sense of coherence, and – the bane of many a Magic Flute – McVicar, in this able revival from Daniel Dooner and Angelo Smimmo, presents the least episodic Flute I have seen, with a sure sense of pace.

All the above was flattered by Hartmut Haenchen’s expert ear for balance. His affection for the score was clear from the overture onward, and chorus and orchestra responded with a natural, warm sound and nonchalant style. It proved with simple directness that the opera is about the power of music to prevail over human frailty and chaos. The women leads of the cast were very strong. With a hotline to wrath and vengeance, Brenda Rae’s Queen of the Night was excellent in her first aria and then swept all before in her in a stupendous ‘Der Hölle Rache’, and enjoyed well-disciplined back-up from her formidable trio of Ladies, incisively sung and characterised by Alexandra Lowe, Hanna Hipp and Stephanie Wake-Edwards. The Georgian soprano Salome Jicia’s Pamina was ravishing, her character opening out impressively with glowing, pure-toned singing; ‘Ich fühl’s’ was irresistible, her ‘Bei Männern’ in Act 1 a delight, and she looked the vulnerable/tough part. Papagena’s casting as a low-rent hooker jars – and doesn’t make sense – in the evening’s eighteenth-century setting, but that paled into insignificance with Haegee Lee’s sparky, uninhibited performance.

To begin with, the Swiss tenor Bernard Richter sounded not quite at ease as Tamino, but he quickly relaxed and was in glorious voice from the Act 1 Finale onwards. He also looked the personable part of a noble, high-minded aristocrat, which his singing reflected beautifully. Krzysztof Baczyk also looked the part as Sarastro, tall, super-conscious of his unviolable dignity and, as the role requires, wooden, but his mellifluous singing didn’t reach the lower-register gravitas to justify Sarastro’s semi-divine authority. Michael Colvin’s King Rat of a Monostatos had a good line in whining misogyny, an aspect of The Magic Flute that never fails to surprise, and there was a vintage turn from Harry Nicoll and Donald Maxwell as the two grumpy Priests. It was, though, the British baritone Huw Montague Rendall’s Papageno (one of this cast’s several ROH debuts) who made the evening such a success. An excellent foil to Tamino, a touching protector of Pamina, and a pragmatic, randy Everyman in his wooing of Papagena, Montague Rendal had the audience as putty in his hands. And he sang beautifully too, with a lithe, light baritone. It was an evening that made you fall in love – again – with Mozart’s mystic pantomime.

Skip to content