The Royal Opera – Die Zauberflöte

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

Tamino – Joseph Kaiser
Pamina – Kate Royal
Papageno – Christopher Maltman
Papagena – Anna Devin
Queen of the Night – Jessica Pratt
Monostatos – Peter Hoare
Sarastro – Franz-Josef Selig
First Lady – Elisabeth Meister
Second Lady – Kai Rüütel
Third Lady – Gaynor Keeble
Speaker of the Temple – Matthew Best
First Priest – Harry Nicoll
Second Priest – Donald Maxwell
First Man in Armour – Stephen Rooke
Second Man in Armour – Lukas Jakobski

Royal Opera Chorus

Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
Sir Colin Davis

David McVicar – Director
Lee Blakeley – Revival director
John Macfarlane – Designs
Paule Constable – Lighting designs
Leah Hausman – Movement director

Reviewed by: Mark Valencia

Reviewed: 1 February, 2011
Venue: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London

Die Zauberflöte (The Royal Opera, February 2011). Photograph: HobanThe return of David McVicar’s florid staging of “Die Zauberflöte” (The Magic Flute) is a happy event; not least for the spontaneity and fluidity that revival director Lee Blakeley brings to his re-creation. Blakeley is blest with a watertight cast, many in roles they know inside out and one that includes a refreshingly high proportion of home-grown talent. There is a palpable sense of joy in the air and it permeates the audience right from the opening chords of the Overture, as sunlit globes are paraded through the auditorium like ritualised offerings to ward off the dark.

These fiery oes of light help to deflect attention from an Overture that Sir Colin Davis conducts with a stick of lead, for the maestro takes a stately view of Mozart’s jolliest stage-work, and it’s one that takes a bit of getting used to in this era of low-carb performing practices. On opening night a number of singers struggled with the tempos until at several points in Act One stage and pit fell out of synch with one another. Matters gradually improved as everyone’s ears became more attuned to Sir Colin’s unfashionable if ultimately compelling interpretation.

Die Zauberflöte (The Royal Opera, February 2011). Photograph: HobanThe ROH Orchestra and Chorus provided a rich panoply within which all the soloists shone brightly. To take a cue from Schikaneder’s libretto, the vocal journey begins with the dark tones of Franz-Josef Selig’s commanding Sarastro – a role he has made his own for more than two decades – and ascends to the stratosphere of Jessica Pratt’s secure if not quite transcendent Queen of the Night. In between there are all shades of vocal delight, not least from Christopher Maltman who combines zaniness and pathos as a warmly sympathetic Papageno. As Monostatos, Peter Hoare brings vestiges of his unforgettable Sharikov from “A Dog’s Heart” (ENO) to depict the rottenness within, especially in his Act Two aria ‘Alles fühlt der Liebe Freuden’ (with its redolent line “Ist mir denn kein Herz gegeben?” – Have I no heart, then?) and in his fruitily physical stage presence. Joseph Kaiser is an eloquent Tamino, sincere and well sung, though a little foursquare in his response to the hero’s emotional challenges.

The three Ladies who rescue Tamino from the clutches of an enormous mechanical serpent are vividly characterised by Elisabeth Meister, Kai Rüütel and Gaynor Keeble, their every appearance a welcome intervention, and they are matched by a fine trio of boys (triple cast) who, initially charged with guiding Tamino on behalf of the Queen of the Night, turn so mysteriously to the ‘dark side’ when Mozart upends our notions of good guys and bad guys. There’s an extrovert Papagena from Anna Devin and an outstanding Pamina from Kate Royal, surely today’s leading British Mozart heroine. In Act Two, Royal’s byplay with Maltman’s Papageno is as delightful as her heart-rending delivery of ‘Ach, ich fuhl’s’ is unforgettable.

David McVicar and his design team have created one of the most durable Mozart productions in the repertory: a popular triumph that has many more revivals left in it. It manages to be at once traditional and groundbreaking, prompting the imagination through mime, dance and puppetry amid John MacFarlane’s solidly representational settings. “Die Zauberflöte” is a lucky opera in London: it sparkles both in this and in Nicholas Hytner’s ageless ENO production. McVicar has the edge in visual opulence, though, and none of it is superfluous: the visual references to the Enlightenment are as valid for their arresting beauty as they are for their philosophical content, and we may respond to them at any level we choose. Me, I liked the puppets.

  • Eight further performances at 7.30 p.m. until 24 February plus a matinee on 26 February at 12.30
  • David Syrus conducts on 22, 24 & 26 February
  • Box office: 020 7304 4000
  • Royal Opera

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