Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute is packed with comedy, but it is a high-minded piece about education, enlightenment and earning rather than assuming one’s place in a civilised society.
In its 10th revival, David McVicar’s radiant production with John Macfarlane’s proudly beautiful design glowing under Paule Constable’s lighting, continues to delight, this time with a cast in which some principals stand out: Georgian soprano Salome Jicia, warm-voiced as abducted Pamina, impressive Polish bass Krzysztof Baczyk as the spiritual leader Sarastro and baritone Huw Montague Rendall, making his ROH debut, as Papageno, the birdcatcher in search of love.
It is Papageno’s wonderful physical theatre stunts that raised the hugest laughs from an excited Covent Garden audience – running slap-bang into a wall, flopping to the ground, flying eagerly on to the bed to reach his bride-to-be. This is a fantastic talent coupled with a fine and gentle baritone. Put Huw Montague Rendall on your list of must-see artists: you can catch him at Glyndebourne next year.
Three Ladies, Three Boys, Two Men in Armour … characters in The Magic Flute come in bundles. Here two of the Three Ladies, who rescue a young prince, Tamino (Bernard Richter), from a monster and the First Man in Armour are from the Royal Opera’s in-house development scheme. These Jette Parker Artists are rising stars soprano Alexandra Lowe and mezzo-soprano Stephanie Wake-Edwards (joined by the ever-wonderful mezzo Hanna Hipp), plus new arrival Alan Pingarrón. This fine Mexican tenor makes a huge impact in this huge, crowded piece, cutting through with solemnity and authority, illuminating in sound a darkened place.
In her perpetual struggle against Sarastro’s enlightenment, the Queen of the Night fights for darkness, with two great arias in her arsenal. American soprano Brenda Rae making her house debut saved the best till last.
Like Oliver Mears’s new production of Verdi’s Rigoletto, which opened the season this week, the look is painterly, and after opera’s 18-month battering, The Magic Flute’s opulence, the huge numbers on stage and torrents of music are just what audiences are ready for.
Hartmut Haenchen conducting the Royal Opera Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, certainly wasn't going to rush this long-awaited return to live music-making, with sombre tempi that at times stretched the singers.
The new Culture Secretary, Nadine Dorries, is best known to date for her flirtation with I’m a Celebrity….. But bemoaning changes in cultural thinking, she tweets: ‘It will be music next.’
It remains to be seen what on earth she means by that. Let's hope she is saying that the repair and support of her country's shattered, world-class, revenue-raising music scene, in all its forms, is at the top of her to-do list.
Whatever, opera fans will be looking out for her at Covent Garden, English National Opera and beyond. Maybe she’ll shell out £11 for a Royal Opera seat in the gods, the best bargain in town.
The Magic Flute is sung in German with English surtitles. Further performances are on 17, 18, 20, 22, 23, 24, 25 and 30 Sept; 4 and 7 Oct. The opera is streamed from 1 Oct.
|What||The Magic Flute, Royal Opera House review|
|Where||Royal Opera House, Bow Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 9DD | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Covent Garden (underground)|
15 Sep 21 – 07 Oct 21, 13 performances, times vary. Running time c.3hr 15min including one interval
|Website||Click here for more information and booking|