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2003-06, London ROH, Zauberflöte

Die Zauberflöte

2003CGFlute12

Composer : Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Librettist : Emanuel Schikaneder
Venue and Dates : Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London
16, 19, 21, 23, 27 and 30 June, 1, 4 and 9 July 2003
Conductor : Philippe Jordan
Director : David McVicar 2003
Performers :

Pamina : Camilla Tilling / Sally Matthews
Queen of the Night : Elena Mosuc
Tamino : Paul Groves
Sarastro : Alfred Reiter
Papageno : Simon Keenlyside (1, 4, 9 July) / Roman Trekel
Papagena : Ailish Tynan / Deborah Peake-Jones
Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House

Notes : This was a revival of the production staged in January the same year.
The original production is available on DVD.
Click here for details:Die Zauberflöte, Covent Garden 2003, DVD

Soundbites

Visions of the sublime. Roderick Dunnett for Music & Vision, 14 June 2003

http://www.mvdaily.com/articles/2003/06/flute1.htm

Now into its second and in some instances, third cast, this is a Magic Flute staging to die for, and its return to the Royal Opera House this week (16, 19, 21, 23, 27 and 30 June, 1, 4 and 9 July 2003) is greatly to be welcomed.

McVicar probes, he homes in, he diverts, he teases. Macfarlane’s opening gambit — a clutch of mock-masonic mystery doors, prismic shapes and curious cones and rhomboids, is like the start of some kind of spiritual whodunnit.

The colours come and go in bold splashes — blues and greys and yellows, reds for Franz Josef Selig’s youthful but purposeful Sarastro (doubling with Alfred Reiter) and occasionally Adrian Thompson’s unusually impertinent, dapper Monostatos — no Caliban he, but a mincing escapee from some divertissement of Louis XIII and Lully a century earlier. Even an intrusive mobile phone (in tune, luckily) sounded merely like another of Papageno’s musical contraptions.

In Schikaneder’s day (or Henry Bishop’s, in London) they went in for contraptions galore. The boa constrictor of a monster — McVicar aping Richard Jones? — is pure outrageous entertainment; so is the heron — Papageno’s Doppelganger, a kind of stork-on-a-stalk looking suspiciously like an escapee from Wallace and Gromit – which dances for the bird-catcher’s opening Vogelsang (after he emerges like a mole from a hole, pure Wind-in-the-Willows) and acquires a cheeky will of its own.

This production, conducted initially by Sir Colin Davis, taken over by Covent Garden’s admirable Head of Music, David Syrus, and overseen in the June-July series by Swiss conductor Philippe Jordan (who has his hands full with the celebrations of Graz’s year as sole European City of Culture) never ceases to awe visually : Macfarlane’s dominant sun and crescent moon (and all-knowing eye-in-the-sky) pound home the image of good versus bad, wise in opposition to foolish, sophisticated and loutish, enlightened against ill-versed, reason against passion, male and female, the initiate weighed against the profane.

Amongst the notable successes were Richard van Allan, that Covent Garden stalwart of stalwarts, whose restrained, wise Second Priest, increasingly present to steer Will Hartmann’s now gorgeously voiced Tamino, strong in recitative (American Paul Groves, even more seasoned in the role, a lyric-cum-dramatic tenor in the very front rank whose roles include a superb Tebaldo on Warner’s Jennifer Larmore version of I Capuleti e I Montecchi, now takes over), brought a presence, and above all a mystique — that sense of a Wiese (initiated Philosopher or All-wise, initiated one) — which Franz-Josef Selig, who sometimes looked as if he’d bought his way to the status, never quite managed as Sarastro.

Van Allan is perfect : like an ancient mystagogus, a semi-shrouded Danteesque figure who gently nurses the aspiring initiate through his tribulatory trials (or Prüfung), he above all manages to sum up what this opera is about. The capable Speaker of the Temple (Vilar Young Artist Darren Jeffery, taking over from Sir Thomas Allen) will be sung in June 2003 by Norwegian baritone Terje Stensvold, a newcomer to the Royal Opera but already seen as Scarpia in Glasgow.

Paule Constable’s ingenious lighting did much to make the most of Macfarlane’s subtle settings, some of which — again surely based on old masters, as so often this duo’s best productions are — poured strange light into Stygian glooms. The winged chariot in which the three impish boys descend is pure delight; their treble delivery, markedly less secure : Covent Garden needs to cast its auditioning net wider. But the three Ladies, weaving in an out of the action, all made a splendid contribution — and if that trio sets things alight at the outset, a Magic Flute can take wing, just as it did here.

Certain things were obfuscated : the precise role of Sarastro as abductor / former lover / spouse / legitimate father all seemed a little muddled, as the production strove to spin in every strand of the variant versions. The Queen of the Night (Diana Damrau) never quite reached her wiliest and best : a mixed performance, terrific to look at, never secure in the first aria though magnificent in the second, and some pretty rocky acting; Romanian Elena Mosuc, a veteran of nocturnal queens Europe-wide, takes over in June. But the Paminas — Sally Matthews, a Vilar Artist and a markedly attractive young Royal Opera singer, and Camilla Tilling (during June and July) succeeded Dorothea Röschmann — are a good bunch, and hence the younger pairings worked well. The Royal Opera Chorus, trained by the immortal (and eternally gifted) Terry Edwards and Stephen Westrop (who has already worked wonders with the LSO choir), was on stupendous form for the later renderings of ‘O Isis and Osiris’.

The Opera House orchestra is in fine fettle : not just the usual firm brass, but some subtly shaded intermeshing woodwind made this last chorus particularly memorable. If nowadays one misses a period instrument twang in a Flute or Figaro, and the first violins unexpectedly launched in with a moment of unhappy tuning, everyone soon pulled round : this measured (rather than sizzling) reading vividly confirmed the Magic Flute’s overture to be a striking instance of late Mozart pointing the way ahead to Beethoven.

Surging clarinets, the skedaddling, mocking flutes for Monostatos and the glorious mid-register strings and bassoons for Pamina’s trial all made for a very good evening in pit and auditorium alike. Keenlyside’s Papageno, a delight from start to finish, just once slipped adrift of his bassoon obbligato. But this was a performance to relish : otherwise vocally secure, full of cheerful charisma and hapless, failed self-sufficiency, casting a heartening glow on his unintelligible surroundings, and just longing to be hen-pecked. You can catch Keenlyside again for the last three performances of the present run, on 1, 4 and 9 July 2003. The admired German baritone Roman Trekel, who is carving out a notable name as a Lieder and opera singer — he recently took part in Daniel Barenboim’s recording of Lohengrin, and sings the Herald in Covent Garden’s current Lohengrin revival under Mark Elder — takes over as Papageno during June.

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