Opera + Classical Music Reviews

The Magic Flute: A new cast brings dramatic vitality to The Royal Opera’s revival of Mozart’s enduring opera

9 January 2023

David McVicar’s classic staging still delights, 20 years later.

The Magic Flute

Jaquelyn Stucker & Long Long (Photo: Camilla Greenwell)

A new year signalled a change in cast for David McVicar’s venerable staging of Mozart’s singspiel at The Royal Opera House. Now 20 years old, and on its umpteenth revival, it’s still packing in the punters. And it’s not hard to see why. Within John Macfarlane’s stately, atmospheric designs which sumptuously evoke the Age of Enlightenment, McVicar tells the story clearly and effectively, infused throughout with humour and warmth.

A rather uneven cast for the December run of performances, skewed the work in favour of the story’s comedic elements. However, 2023 ushered in a new Pamina and Tamino, which resulted in the pendulum swinging the other way, ensuring a far more even performance in which all the disparate elements of the work were more evenly balanced.

American soprano Jaquelyn Stucker was due to make her debut as Pamina at this performance, but jumped in before Christmas as the scheduled performer had to withdraw due to being indisposed. She was the Pamina of one’s dreams. Her warm, creamy soprano navigated Mozart’s vocal lines with consummate ease. Even throughout the range, she was born to sing this repertoire – her ‘Ach, ich fühl’s’, replete with exquisitely floated high notes, touched the heart.

“…it’s still packing in the punters. And it’s not hard to see why”

The Magic Flute

Kathryn Lewek (Photo: Camilla Greenwell)

Once past a bumpy start – his Portrait aria was dogged by pitch and intonation issues – Long Long settled down and was an ardent, thrillingly voiced Tamino. He certainly had the measure of the house, filling it with his honeyed tone whilst delivering a perfectly judged dramatic performance as well. 

Following in the footsteps of so many memorable Pagagenos to grace this staging can’t be easy, but Croatian baritone Leon Košavić certainly held his own and given he delivered such a winning performance, his name can be added to the growing list of illustrious interpreters of this role at this address. He balanced the farcical elements with the more poignant ones faultlessly, singing with an unfailingly vibrant tone throughout. As his betrothed, Papagena, Rowan Pierce was a delight.

It was good to see the veteran German bass René Pape back at Covent Garden, with one of his signature roles, Sarastro. His warm, velvety tone remains undiminished, even if some of the lowest notes evaded him on this occasion. As his adversary, soprano Kathryn Lewek sang both her fiendishly difficult arias with consummate ease, making her a Queen of the Night to reckon with. She dispatched the spitfire coloratura with pinpoint accuracy – her delivery of ‘Der Hölle Rache’ was nothing short of sensational, rightly bringing the house down.

With perfectly balanced trios of boys and ladies, and a winning supporting cast, this proved to be a memorable performance of what’s become a regular staple in the Royal Opera’s repertoire. In the pit conductor Maxim Emelyanychev seemed more relaxed than he had done on the first night in December, although some of his choices of tempo still felt indulgent. Nevertheless, the orchestra played with a sprightly nod towards period practice, and the results were impressive.

• The Magic Flute is performed in German with English surtitles.

• Details of future performances can be found here.

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The Magic Flute: A new cast brings dramatic vitality to The Royal Opera’s revival of Mozart’s enduring opera