Die Zauberflöte

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
Released

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Peter Mauro (Tamino) magics the animals Credit: Tristram Kenton, Royal Opera House
Sabine Devieilhe (Queen of the Night) Credit: Tristram Kenton, Royal Opera House
Mike Kares (Sarastro) Credit: Tristram Kenton, Royal Opera House
Peter Mauro (Tamino) and serpent Credit: Tristram Kenton, Royal Opera House
Roderick Williams (Papageno) and Peter Mauro (Tamino) Credit: Tristram Kenton, Royal Opera House
The finale Credit: Tristram Kenton, Royal Opera House

We all have our blind spots, and mine is The Magic Flute. Apart from its questionable assumptions ("without a man, a woman cannot fulfil her destinies"), dodgy mysticism and limp humour, I’m not a fan even of its music, much of which seems showy and contrived. Sorry Mozart—wish you could have done better if there had been a next time.

This was the sixth outing of David McVicar’s acclaimed production, and I must admit that it’s a valiant, intelligent, musically respectful attempt to rescue what for me is a lost cause.

It pays its respects to early productions in 1791 and 1811, with period costumes, backdrops, wing panels and mechanical devices such as the flying go-kart in which the three boys make their entrance and the unfortunate bird that is the object of Papageno’s pursuit. It gets the best laugh of the evening.

Which is not to say that the bird-catching Roderick Williams does not do a fine job. He’s a more robust Papageno than many I’ve seen, despite the Norman Wisdom pathos, and finds the right level of wistful exuberance in "Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen".

The star of the show is Sabine Devieilhe as the Queen of the Night, who combines instrumental precision with an actor’s interpretive inflections in the show-off arias "Der Hölle Rache" and "O zittre nicht", containing probably the highest notes that Mozart ever wrote. Who could resist the latter peremptory command to rescue her daughter without turning to ice?

I appreciated Mauro Peter’s clear diction and heroic resolution as Tamino. His Pamina, Siobhan Stagg, sang beautifully, imbuing "Ah ich fühl’s" with languid melancholy.

Christina Gansch is a springy Papagena, a mini-skirted floozie who turns up with ten kids, which seems to phase her young man not at all. Peter Bronder adopts a not inappropriate strangled delivery for the role of Monostatos, looking like Uncle Fester from the Addams Family. His vehemence reminded me of Osmin’s "Wie will ich triumphieren" in Die Entführung.

Mika Kares sang the part of Sarastro with measured gravity, maintaining a stately, undemonstrative demeanour. One irreverent thought occurred to me: if his intentions are so honourable, why does he keep Pamina in her undies?

The clean, elegant voices of the three Ladies of the Night (excuse the phrase), Rebecca Evans, Angela Simkin and Susan Platts, combine as one, as do the three boys, Edward Hyde, Aidan Cole and Gaius Davey Bartlett.

Conductor Julia Jones maintains a perfect rapport with the singers, who know their roles so intimately that one detects very few glances toward the orchestra. The sound and visual quality of the DVD is excellent and includes short, insightful introductions from Jones and revival director Thomas Guthrie as extra features. A regret is that the booklet, unlike the disk, has no track list.

Reviewer: Colin Davison