Die Zauberflöte, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, February 2011

Mozart’s Magic Flute can be both magical and portentous, and this production by David McVicar gives us both. As the overture starts, a smartly dressed young man in eighteenth century costume climbs over the Stalls Circle and onto the front of the stage. This is Tamino, whose entrance is followed by dark figures entering the auditorium at all levels, from Stalls to Amphi, carrying lights.

Royal Opera House photos by Mike Hoban

When the curtain opens a huge serpent appears on stage, which Christopher Maltman, as a very engaging Papageno, later claims to have killed. His body language confirms that the ladies of the night are right to gag him for his lies, and his attitudes provide an excellent contrast to the noble Tamino, beautifully sung by Joseph Kaiser.

Maltman as Papageno

This was a super cast, with Kate Royal as a lovely Pamina in her princess-like dress, made dowdy by her captivity, while Anna Devin was a captivatingly sexy Papagena in her short, tight skirts and bright colours. Franz-Josef Selig was a commanding Sarastro, and Jessica Pratt a fierce queen of the night, if somewhat harsh of tone in Act I. The German diction was excellent from most of the singers; Christopher Maltman was particularly good in his delivery, as was  Donald Maxwell as Second Priest — I heard every word with clarity.

The designs by John Macfarlane work very well, giving the three boys a scruffy appearance with dirty legs and old-fashioned shorts and jumpers, and showing splashes of bird droppings on the back of Papageno’s cheap suit. The death-like armour and cloaks for the two men who come on in Act 2 give an appearance of great power as they sing, “Der, welcher wandert diese Strasse voll Beschwerden/ Wird rein durch Feuer, Wasser, Luft und Erden/. . .” (He who walks this path heavy with cares, will be purified by fire, water, air and earth . . .). “Mich schreckt kein Tod . . .” (Death doesn’t frighten me) responds Tamino, and we are engaged by his strength of purpose in seeking enlightenment, unlike the happy Papageno who merely wants a wife and family.

Royal and Selig as Pamina and Sarastro

Incidentally, the Papageno in 1791 at the first performance in Vienna was the librettist, Schikaneder. He and Mozart were both freemasons, which at the time had slightly different connotations from what it has today. This was the age of Enlightenment when reason was seen as an ideal that should underlie legitimacy and authority, embodied here by Sarastro, and opposed by the Queen of the Night.

Finale

It was a treat to have Colin Davis in the pit, giving the singers his full support, and in this dress rehearsal helping the boys to keep on track at one point.

Further performances are scheduled until February 24, with David Syrus conducting the final two — for more details click here.

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