Die Zauberflöte

Only a quick post to record last Friday’s encounter with the David McVicar Zauberflöte: in summary, better than expected.

David Syrus took over in the pit for an unwell Colin Davis, and initial disappointment at the announcement was soon swept away in a reading that, whilst still relatively measured, was also more fleet of foot than I feared Davis was going to be.  Am I allowed to say that? Will I have my British citizenship revoked for expressing such heinous, nay treacherous, views on the great maestro?  Well, in Zauberflöte, I’m afraid I count speed as a distinct virtue.

The story is complete nonsense, as our guests for the evening remarked on this, their first encounter with it.  The masonic guff really does need a spirited and speedy reading if it is not to disappear up its own self-reverential bottom.  This was a close-run, thing, but there were compensating benefits.

I didn’t particularly warm to Jessica Pratt’s Queen of the Night.  She was nowhere close to the Natalie Dessay/Diana Damrau coloratura technique, which can integrate it so effortlessly into the character and the narrative, and make this curiously outlandish but riveting singing actually mean something.  Her voice was relatively small, and the coloratura breathy – it just all felt like too much hard work, and that is a shame because I sensed commitment and something notable hiding away in there, just not for this performance, in this house, of this piece.

The odd effect of the Queen being less-than-imposing was that it rebalanced the piece slightly.  The clumsy misogyny is still there, but the spotlight shifts more firmly onto the lovers and their quest, with the supernatural gender battle between Sarastro and the Queen fading in importance.  It’s all still bonkers, though.

Kate Royal let forth some glorious sounds as Pamina, getting better as the evening went on.  Absolutely beautiful tone, delivered securely and sensitively.  Her Ach, ich ful’s was wonderful.  As Tamino, Joseph Kaiser was similarly secure, but with less varied tone; nonetheless a pleasure.  I had some sympathy for Christopher Maltman, when even an artist of his commitment and intensity has to compete with memories of Simon Keenlyside in the role of Papageno.  All those little tics and expressions that Keenlyside injects become ingrained in the memory to the point that any other interpretation seems to miss a dose of the necessary pathos.  Maltman was nonetheless solid and secure, if tending to swallow some words and take the dialogue a little too quickly to give it its needed ‘breathing space’.  His Papagena, Anna Devin, played the perky cocquette with great verve.  Franz-Josef Selig returned as Sarastro and rumbled congenially through the slow bass arias that are his lot.

The production works reasonably well, and for some reason it seemed to work more fluidly and effectively than I remember on previous outings (which may be due to little more than me being in the ‘right head space’).  Taken apart, there are things which shouldn’t be as effective as they are when the whole thing comes together: the human-controlled puppet characters, for example, may provoke puzzlement, but over the course of the evening they contribute to the magic.  Any longeurs (which are mostly masonic in origin) are not easily solved without an excessively interventionist production, so we should probably (on balance) be grateful that they are simply left to run their course.

Barmy opera, not bad production, well-played with a reasonable cast.  Not an opera review full of devastating insight, perhaps, but a record of a pleasant evening spent in the company of Mozart.

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