Director David McVicar’s dark, dreamy production of Mozart’s final opera is not yet fifteen years old, yet is already recognised as a classic. With a star cast and stunning production design (John Macfarlane), this sixth revival feels as fresh as an opening night.
The magic flute (die zauberflöte) and magic glockenspiel cast spells that protect our hero Tamino (Mauro Peter) and his lovable sidekick Papageno (Roderick Williams) from harm as they join “The Initiated” (Mozart was an enthusiastic Freemason), fight evil, and find true love. Where other directors would be tempted to emphasise the libretto’s zaniness, this production’s genius is to ground the whole action in black solemnity. Then, when a puppet bird looks at the audience in disbelief, or a priest reluctantly develops charmed twinkletoes, the humour really comes alive.
Sabine Devielhe sings a mesmerising, all-powerful Queen of the Night. Not remotely hung up on the insanely difficult coloratura, Devielhe makes every phrase tell a different story: a technical, musical and dramatic tour de force. Papageno is the star of the opera, and Williams steals the show with his robust, effortless baritone and perfect comic timing, especially in the spoken scenes.
Veteran Die Zauberflöte conductor Julia Jones takes the slow sections and makes them really slow, which along with the constant darkness can come across as indulgent rather than beautiful. But the overture crackles with spark, and all the way through the orchestra play as sensitively and dramatically as the singing. It’s been two years since this Zauberflöte last cast its spell; don’t leave it another two, the time to revel in this opera masterpiece is now.