Covent Garden market, the buskers playing a Mozart Flute Quartet, who knows if the adjacent production of The Magic Flute influenced their choice of repertoire.
Inside the opera house the familiar chords at the start of the Overture, laden with symbolism and foreboding presage some of Mozart’s most magical music. Curtain up on tonight’s revival of the 2003 production designed by John Macfarlane.
Act 1 of Die Zauberflöte is the magic, the pantomime and the setting up of the story. This production clearly aims to strip off years of production practice to reveal Mozart’s singspeil in all its detail. Julia Jones conducts the Overture brightly, briskly and very precisely, in good modern performance practice. It’s a reminder of how much Mozart said with a sparse orchestra and exquisite counterpoint.
The curtain rises on Tamino being chased by a large puppet snake, operated by many onstage puppeteers. From then onwards we are in the magic realm, musical and production symbolism almost as thick as in Wagner. But (unlike so many recent Wagner productions) this is a literal production, there’s very little which is not directly called for in the score.
The singing is stylish and in character rather than belting out the famous arias, Tamino gave us plenty of volume as well as character but the singing of the other principals was more about characterisation than volume. The Queen of the Night is played as a frail, failing, fading character, tragic in the twilight of her reign.
Now we have surtitles so more of the audience get the jokes. This production benefits from a new translation; its full impact comes in Act 2, which is almost a different opera, there’s far more dialogue and philosophy. This production makes much better sense than any previous staging I’ve seen, including a few sensible repeats of the music which allow the staging to breathe. There’s still the odious philosophy and outright misogyny of the Sarastrian sect but it’s laid bare and played straight.
I’m left with the uncomfortable feeling that the music says to me that Die Zauberflöte was close to the composer’s own philosophy of life but did WA Mozart really buy in to all this awful philosophy? And does that invalidate his other music, relegating it to merely a pretty souvenir of the rococo era?
So getting to know a piece I’ve thought I’ve known since my schooldays has been both entrancing - the staging and the music performances - but disquieting (the translation and production).
Music - Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Libretto - Emanuel Schikaneder
Director - David McVicar
Designer - John Macfarlane
Lighting designer - Paule Constable
Movement director - Leah Hausman
Conductor - Julia Jones
Pamina - Janai Brugger
Tamino - Tuomas Katajala
Papageno - Florian Sempey
Sarastro - In Sung Sim
Queen of the Night - Christina Poulitsi
First Lady - Jennifer Davis
Second Lady - Angela Simkin
Third Lady - Gaynor Keeble
Monostatos - Peter Hoare
Papagena - Haegee Lee
Speaker of the Temple - Darren Jeffery
First Priest - Alasdair Elliott
Second Priest - Donald Maxwell
First Man in Armour - Thomas Atkins
Second Man in Armour - Simon Shibambu
Royal Opera Chorus, Concert Master - Ania Safonova
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House