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Die Zauberflöte review at Glyndebourne, Lewes – ‘a trivial staging of Mozart’s comedy’

The cast of Die Zauberflote at Glyndebourne, Lewes. © Glyndebourne Productions Ltd. Photo: Bill Cooper
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An Enlightenment tract, Mozart’s The Magic Flute is equally a reminder of the limitations of that movement in terms of its views on women and people of colour – though many would argue that in the case of the former, at least, Mozart and his librettist Schikaneder contradict the misogyny regularly expressed by giving Pamina equivalent status as Tamino in the mysterious, quasi-Masonic initiation rites organised by Sarastro’s strange cult.

In an interview included in the programme book the directorial/design duo Barbe and Doucet make much of presenting the original text complete and unaltered – but in fact, as in pretty well all modern productions, they doctor the odd line to avoid offence.

It’s in creating a new setting for the piece that their staging falls down. They’ve alighted upon the Hotel Sacher in Vienna, managed (following her husband’s death in 1892) by Anna Sacher, who becomes the model for the Queen of the Night.

The Queen’s opponent Sarastro becomes head chef, with many scenes taking place in the kitchens, and the climax of the rituals – the trials of fire and water – descending to the level of a kind of period edition of MasterChef Vienna. The word trivialisation might have been coined to describe the result.

Uneven as it is, not even the music can rescue this. There are some major pluses, though, including Brindley Sherratt’s distinguished Sarastro, Sofia Fomina’s lyrical Pamina and Björn Bürger’s promising Papageno, while conductor Ryan Wigglesworth has the measure of the score and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment is on excellent form. 

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Nonsensical production of Mozart’s philosophical comedy relocated to the Hotel Sacher in Vienna