Mozart’s Magic Flute at Covent Garden

Mozart Die Zauberflöte. Cast; Chorus & Orchestra of the Royal Opera House / Maxin Emelyanychev. Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, 22.12 2022

Production:

Director – David McVicar

Revival Director – Angelo Smimmo

Designer – John MacFarlane

Lighting – Paul Constable

Movement Director – Leah Hausman

Cast:

Tamino – Filipe Manu

Pamina – Anna Prohaska

First Lady – Alexandra Lowe

Second Lady – Gabrielle Kupsyte

Third Lady – Kseniia Nikolaieva

Papageno – Gyula Orendt

Papagena – Sarah Dufresne

Queen of the Night – Aigul Khismatulllina

Monostatos – Brenton Ryan

First Child – Emily Barton

Second Chile – Kaelan O’Sullivan

Third Child – Toby Yates

Speaker of the Temple – Oliver Zwarg

Sarastro – Brindley Sherratt

First Priest – Harry Nicoll

Second Priest – Donald Maxwell

First Armoured Man – Egor Zhuravskii

Second Armoure d Man – Thomas D. Hopkinson

David McVicar’s production of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte is very much a known quantity: in 2019, Leo Hussein conducted a rather lacklustre account; back in 2013 it was Julia Jones conducting a simply marvellous cast including Simon Keenlyside, Sophie Bevan and Albina Shagimuratova; in 2017, Jones returned to conduct again, this time with Roderick Williams as one of the most memorable Papagenos of modern times.

It is worthwhile looking back on these, as despite some star turns, this was a rather disappointing lunchtime Flute (kick-off was 12 noon). Maxim Emelyanchev, who impressed with his group Il Pomo d’Oro at the Barbican in Joyce DiDonato’s project Eden, was perhaps a little surprising in not finding the brightness in this opera. Zauberflöte is a balancing act for both producer and conductor; one on level, there is plenty of fantasy there; on another, there is the Freemasonic element, closely linked to Isis (in her pronouncedly lunar aspect) but also to the initiatory aspects of the so-called secret societies (Rosicrucianism, Freemasonry, Ordo Templi Orientis and so on). In McVicar’s production, there is a lesser emphasis on the latter (the initiatory trials were certainly impressive in, for example, Simon McBurney’s ENO production –  undermined perhaps by its slapstick: review). And as the revivals pile up (and probably something to do with the timing) it becomes increasingly difficult not to equate the actor-operated serpent of the opening scene with Chinese New Year.

All of which points towards the impossibility of the perfect staging for Zauberflöte; so perhaps we are left to the singers and conductor. Anna Prohaska as Pamina had to be the big draw here. Her voice is fabulous, it has to be said, but there was just the feeling that all was not well in Act I; little surprise that ere was an announcement that Prohaska was coming down with a cold just pre-act II and so our indulgence was craved. Her performance of the vital line ‘Tamino mein’ was perhaps less than it could have been, certainly in comparison with Sandrine Piau in Gstaad last Summer (Les Talens Lyriques / Rousset), who made this a soul-melting moment.

While Filipe Manu was an acceptable Tamino, well sung throughout, it was perhaps Aigul Khismattulina’s Queen of the Night  (one of three queens for this run) that was the true star. This role is not all about the high notes (although they were perfectly placed); every emotion was brilliantly conveyed, as was the character’s power. If Gyula Orendt’s Papageno was a touch lacking in a character, Sarah Dufresne’s Papagena was a beam of comedic light (part of me really wants to see what Rowan Pierce will make of this role though – her turn begins on January 9).

Wonderful to hear Brindley Sherratt as a wise Sarastro (he shares the role with René Pape, no less); Brenton Ryan was a strong Monostratos (bit of a cartoon character in this production, so good he made the most of it) while, of the three ladies, it was Ksenia Nikolaeva’s plummy Third Lady that made the strongest impression by some way.

With the Three Boys and the ‘Men in Armour” as the ROH booklet has them, there was a strong basis to this performance  But just a touch more magic to this Magic Flute would have not gone amiss…


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