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Die Zauberflote review at Royal Opera House, London – ‘extraordinary dramatic diversity’

Mauro Peter in Die Zauberflote at Royal Opera House, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton Mauro Peter in Die Zauberflote at Royal Opera House, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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Reappearing for the sixth time and carefully revived by Thomas Guthrie, David McVicar’s production of The Magic Flute has turned out to be good value for the Royal Opera. The first night was dedicated to the memory of Lee Blakeley – in his own right an accomplished director, who first worked for the company assisting McVicar on this show when it was new in 2003, and who died suddenly last month aged just 45.

John Macfarlane’s complex sets – and how smoothly and quickly they are reconfigured by the stage crew, without any pauses between the opera’s innumerable scenes – still look architecturally grand and, where required, magical; and what makes McVicar’s presentation of the piece so satisfying is that he finds room not only for the work’s philosophical leanings (which, quite rightly, he does not regard uncritically), but equally for its low-comedy, its pantomime hocus-pocus and its wider sense of a spiritual journey. The result remains a remarkably complete staging of a piece of extraordinary dramatic diversity.

This is a solid cast, too, with several standouts. Among notable company debuts are Finnish bass Mika Kares’s richly resonant Sarastro, Swiss tenor Mauro Peter’s appealingly lyrical Tamino and French soprano Sabine Devieilhe’s pinpoint accurate Queen of the Night.

Roderick Williams’s Papageno is a joy, and delivered with a Lieder-singer’s subtle inflections as well as masterly comic skills. Australian soprano Siobhan Stagg offers an attractively sung Pamina, while Peter Bronder’s vile Monostatos and Austrian soprano Christina Gansch’s Coronation-Street-diva of a Papagena would be hard to better. Among the smaller roles, there’s a particularly fine trio of boys.

Currently based in Germany, British conductor Julia Jones returns to the pit where she maintains perfect dramatic momentum, and the whole evening goes with a swing.

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David McVicar’s production delivers a perfect blend of high art and low comedy