Has Nicholas Hytner’s famous 1980s production, serially mothballed only to be revived ‘one last time’, finally reached the end of the road? The blue wigs, giant serpent, dancing bears and real performing birds continue to wow audiences although these are only part of the appeal. Bob Crowley’s architectural shapes and eclectic ‘Egyptian’ designs successfully define a world apart, often striking a deeper note than that favoured here by revival directors Ian Rutherford and James Bonas.
Intent on making comedic play with their decidedly multi-national, mostly youthful cast, they do ensure that diction is impressive in the vocal numbers. Kathryn Lewek’s pint-sized Queen of Night has the technique for her big moments and a mid-Western take on the dialogue (not shared by Shawn Mathey’s transatlantic Tamino). Rhian Lois’s Papagena is maximally Welsh, whereas Adrian Thompson’s pantomimic Monostatos cannot be placed geographically. Robert Lloyd, a rare septuagenarian Sarastro, remains a noble presence for all that an oddly mangled quality can invade his vocal production and one feels him wanting to move things on in the graver mysteries of ActII.
The best singing comes from Australians. Duncan Rock showcases his distinctive vocal timbre in a broad treatment that has him referring to Papagena as a ‘sheila’. Elena Xanthoudakis as Pamina is allowed to be subtler - her bright, shining timbre deployed with tact and sensitivity. Making his ENO debut, conductor Nicholas Collon imparts plenty of fizz to ActI after a remarkably assured account of the overture combining rhythmic buoyancy and lean string tone. That ActII droops a little may be Mozart’s fault but there could be more magic and finesse in the pit and on stage.