Firstly, I was so glad to see so many children and young people at the performance, albeit brought by their wealthy parents. The Magic Flute still reigns as the first pick for an introduction to the art form, a favourite among young and old audiences alike. Die Zauberflöte at the Royal Opera House is not a cheap night out but is the same price as tickets for Matilda or any other West End show, and I assure you a better artistic and educational experience can also be had for that price. Mozart’s final opera is much more than a just a singspiel, but an operatic masterpiece; the music itself is much more than a sung play and reveals the composer’s true skill in composition for the theatre.
David McVicar’s popular and stunning much-revived production is cloaked in a dark hue, with Paul Constable’s gorgeous lighting captivating our gaze. Set in Mozart’s world of the late 18th century, there are clear themes referring to the Age of Enlightenment and the period’s breakthrough discoveries in science reflected in Sarastro’s world of honour, truth and virtue. Simple though very effective puppetry elements, now necessary in any production of Magic Flute it would seem, were handled very well; in particular the snake, the best I’ve seen in a production to date. Magical realist elements of this opera blossom in this production and you are absolutely charmed as a spectator – applause and laughter regularly filled the auditorium.
It is a very fine cast all round, and all do their best to bring magic to both the music and the staging of this piece. Tenor Pavol Breslik, who shares the role of Tamino with Toby Spence, has a beautiful light-lyric voice, sensitive both in vocal quality and portrayal. As partner in crime, we have a rich buffo baritone in Markus Werba as Papageno. The Queen of the Night is sung by Anna Siminska, and though not half as formidable as Diana Damrau in the role, it was finely sung. Christiane Karg sings a stunning ‘Ach ich fuhls’ as Pamina, a very assured performance.
With the great pace in the accompaniment, under the baton of Cornelius Meister, the drama moves quickly and effectively through the scenes as the plot drives forward. This revival may not be as innovative as Simon Mcburney’s new ENO production, or fantastical as Julie Taymor’s version at the Met, but McVicar can rest easy that this relatively traditional production holds its own and will continue to do so. It was utterly enchanting and one of the most enjoyable evenings of theatre I’ve experienced in a long time, and I am not afraid to admit I cried with joy.
Die Zauberflöte is playing at the Royal Opera House until 11 March. For more information and tickets, see the Royal Opera House website.