A revival of David McVicar’s gloomy-but-not-intrusive production of Die Zauberflöte doesn’t really get the blood rushing these days; in the event it was shot through with excellent performances that added up to one of the best revivals of this production I can recall. This was particularly pleasing in a run dedicated to Sir Colin Davis.
So engaging was it, in fact, that I was even able to get past the flimsiness of the story, set aside the casual misogyny, and summon some patience for the tedium of the ‘trials’ scene. Although a mishap with the doors at the back of the stage, which saw them stick on the floor with one of them scraping, wobbling and lurching open, brought a momentary amusement, particularly as it was accompanied by the surtitle, ‘You are at the Gates of Terror’ or some such.
In the second cast of the run, only on for three nights, Simon Keenlyside’s beautifully detailed, energetic and moving Papageno was the initial draw, and it didn’t disappoint. Still well up to the athletics and slapstick required, his immersion in this role plays out most intimately in the heartbreaking stillness that accompanies his 1-2-3 call on his pipes for someone to come and relieve his loneliness: a remarkable feat that, for me, has no equal in performances I’ve seen. He was paired (in the end!) with a Papagena of giggly effervescence from Susana Gaspar.
The other pairing were truly excellent: Andrew Staples brought a crisp, clear tenor to the thanklessly lofty utterances of Tamino, and a vivid engagement with the character. Sophie Bevan’s Pamina was beautifully performed, and sung with a strong, secure and unfailingly lustrous soprano: her pianissimos were gorgeous.
Albina Shagimuratova emphasised control as the Queen of the Night over a dramatic abandon that some others might bring, but the result was thrilling nonetheless, with seeming pinpoint accuracy and ‘ping’ in the coloratura, and a silvery projection that gave depth to the extra complexity of O! Zittre nicht, relative to the ‘showstopper’ Der Hölle Rache. Matthew Rose as Sarastro and Alasdair Elliott was Monostatos made what they could with roles that are dry and silly respectively. Boys, ladies, men in armour, and priests, along with chorus and dancers, all contributed to an overall sense of strong ensemble.
I was very taken by Julia Jones’ reading of the piece, and she drew crisp, tight playing from the orchestra, keeping up a good pace, but not tipping into the ascetic sound or the over-brisk tempi of period practice. It was a nice balance, and served singers and story very well indeed.