This revival of Die Zauberflte is the Royal Opera at its very best. This is the fourth outing for David McVicar’s stylish production and its unbridled joy and energy is enough to dispel the January blues. David McVicar’s production is the epitome of everything a production of a repertory piece should be, yet so seldom is. He has evidently given much thought to what Mozart’s singspiel is about and re-interpreted it for a modern-day audience without resorting to cliché.
Setting the work in the Age of the Enlightenment works admirably for both the serious and light-hearted aspects of the work and he is aided and abetted by the sumptuous designs by the ever-inventive John Macfarlane.
The story is told simply, efficiently and honestly and leaves you feeling more than satisfied by the end of the evening. This is destined to become a classic Royal Opera production and if the vandals at ENO are to believed, in that we’ve seen the last of Nicholas Hytner’s venerable staging, then London’s operatic-going public will be well-served by McVicar’s staging for many years to come.
Conductor Roland Böer made an auspicious house debut, and led a taut, muscular reading, securing fine playing from the orchestra in the process. The co-ordination between stage and pit was well-nigh faultless. After a disappointing Figaro at the Coliseum last season it was good to see him fulfilling the potential as a Mozart conductor he had promised with Clemenza at ENO three years ago.
The cast was welded into a true ensemble, but the outstanding performance of the night came from Simon Keenlyside as a definitive Papageno. He has been the constant in this production since it was first unveiled in 2003 and it’s hard to imagine a more rounded, wholly convincing portrayal of this role these days. His singing is immaculate (that goes without saying) but it’s the pathos that he brings to the role that makes his interpretation so memorable. I don’t think I’ve seen the role infused with such melancholy before: simply unforgettable. He rightly received the biggest ovation of the night but was utterly self-effacing in his acknowledgement of it.
Stephen Milling’s cavernous low-notes added gravitas to the role of Sarastro whilst Erika Miklósa provided stratospheric pyrotechnics as a quite-stunning Queen of the Night. She even managed a diminuendo towards the end of her second aria that took the breath away.
Christoph Strehl has sung the role of Tamino in most of the major houses in the world, yet here seemed out of sorts. He started nervously and it was only in the second act that he seemed to have the measure of the house. Austrian soprano Genia Kuhmeier was happier as Pamina although her tone is too bleached for my liking. Despite this she was heart-stopping in her fiendishly difficult second act aria.
Ladies, boys and priests were all cast from strength, making this a vintage night at the Royal Opera and a Zauberflte to treasure.