After some recent lacklustre outings under other directors, David McVicar’s 2003 production of Mozart’s mystical opera returns to Covent Garden pepped up by McVicar himself, with a company on form. Unlike the great Da Ponte triptych, The Magic Flute was conceived as popular entertainment, not high art. Mozart’s final opera contains some of his most sublime music, but is also laden with hummable, folksy tunes, and – thanks to earthy bird-catcher Papegeno – bawdy comedy. McVicar’s is a more lofty take, however, downplaying the humour, and – with John Macfarlane’s gloomy marble halls – favouring the work’s questionable Masonic philosophy over its dream-world fantasy. The libretto’s unpalatable racism is adjusted – Monastotos is an ogre rather than a Moor – but McVicar doesn’t confront its sexism. Sorastro’s “Enlightened” message to women is: you’re useless without a man.
The musical values of this revival, though, are superb. Young German conductor Cornelius Meister is a dynamic presence in the pit, keeping the pace taught with sparkling Mozartean affinity and tenderness. Pick of the strong cast is American soprano Janai Brugger, a ravishingly soft, creamy-voiced Pamina. Toby Spence, veteran of English National Opera’s long-running Flute, is a natural Tamino, Markus Werba’s likeable Papageno wins deserved laughs, and the respective high and low notes of Anna Siminska’s Queen of the Night and Georg Zeppenfeld’s Sorastro duly impress.
McVicar’s Flute is not excessively cold – rather, it’s a more realistic, human vision than many, that makes reasonable sense of Emanuel Schikaneder’s loosely plotted libretto, and, in its current run, the music shines.
Dates: February 23-March 11 (PN February 23)
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