March 20, 2011

The Magic Flute, Royal Opera House

4 stars

The Magic Flute

It could be said that it’s difficult to go wrong with Mozart’s sublime 1791 piece that is The Magic Flute. While this may be true, it is wonderful and uplifting to encounter a production with as much flair, beauty and raw talent as in Lee Blakeley’s revival of David McVicar’s glorious incarnation at the Opera House.

Brilliantly cast with a gleaming trio of soloists at its heart (Christopher Maltman as Papageno, Joseph Kaiser as Tamino, and Kate Royal as Pamina), every aria is as enchanting as it ought to be. Kaiser and Royal both bring a purity of voice to their roles, but also demonstrate extraordinary versatility, in particular in their dynamic variation. Impressively, Maltman never lets the humour or bumpkin nature of his characterisation of Papageno upstage his singing, and his voice is rich and powerful throughout. Kaiser has perhaps the most delicious voice out of the cast in my opinion, the ring of his higher register like nothing else in the show.

Supporting these three outstanding singers are two other topnotch threesomes – namely a wonderful trio of ladies of the night with impeccable ensemble, and the exquisitely angelic sounding choir boys (here presented as three rather ragged school boys), flying in what looks like a homemade go-cart with wings that they operate.

This production does not hold back on the spectacle and what a treat that is. There are puppets and masks, a dancer on stilts, a great glowing disk of a sun that is rolled on, an ice-like gigantic moon, an eccentric study room with chalk writing all the way up to the top of the stage, and a dramatic revolving replica of the solar system. There are also very cute children galore who, though they don’t essentially ‘do’ anything, are the finishing touch in this utopian community.

The orchestra, for this performance under the baton of David Syrus, is outstanding, achieving a stunning sense of ensemble. There is some particularly gorgeous playing from the first flute (Sarah Brooke).

In such a large-scale and ambitious production, there are bound to be a few weak spots. On our night, the Queen of the Night (Jessica Pratt) was ill and so another singer bravely stood in, but unfortunately made a hash of her much-awaited aria. Franz-Josef Selig as Sarastro has one of the best-sounding voices in the cast no doubt, but is rather erratic rhythmically. And Alasdair Elliott makes for a strange casting choice as Monostatos, never really stirring up the faintest nerve amongst the audience. Also, while this production has obviously aimed for the large-cast, big spectacle approach, the only chorus choreography as such is dancers as animals jumping rather aimlessly about the stage, and some slightly cringe-worthy physical theatre during the trials of fire and water.

However, these are minor complaints in what is a stellar production with some singers that no doubt will be remembered for their roles (in particular, watch out for Kate Royal who clearly has what it takes to make it…). It’s refreshing, too, to see a Flute that isn’t too pantomime-focused, and hearing it in its original language only confirms one’s sense of this being exactly what Mozart intended for his opera.

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