Review | The Magic Flute at the Royal Opera House

A scene from Die Zauberflote by Mozart @ Royal Opera House. Directed by David McVicar. Conducted by Leo Hussain. (Opening 01-11-19) ©Tristram Kenton

Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte returns to the Royal Opera House in the seventh revival of David McVicar’s incredible production.

There is good reason that this production of Magic Flute has now been revived seven times. It is a fantasy masterpiece; there is no psychological overinterpretation or dabbling with anything that isn’t there. Telling the story of Tamino, who, after being saved by a giant snake agrees to help the Queen of the Night by saving her daughter Pamina from the sorcerer Sarastro, all isn’t as it seems. And in this production, the story unfolds in such an engaging, funny and beautiful way.

The sets features stunning colourful artwork and there are some brilliant puppets. When the character Papageno is introduced, singing his first aria “Der Vogelfänger bin ich ja”, he is trying to catch a bird puppet – and it’s hilariously done. Vito Priante takes on the role with great gusto and a warm voice. I’m very glad he is back at ROH after his insightful performance last season in the world premiere of the lost Donizetti opera L’ange de Nisida.

The one cast member that, for me, wasn’t at her best was Tuuli Takala as the Queen of the Night, which is a shame as her aria in Act 2, “Der Hölle Rache” is one of the most famous of all time. She was underwhelming in her first aria, to the point where the audience could hardly hear her. By Act 2 she had gathered some strength of voice, but not enough power for the coloratura required for this aria.

In this particular production, I want to make a mention of the three boys who guide Tamino and Papageno. They were all very good, but one in particular, a boy with glasses, absolutely stole the opera; he was so energetic and enthusiastic that everyone in the audience was enthralled and thoroughly enjoyed his performance. When the three of them took their curtain call, they received one of the biggest cheers of the night.

This opera was originally performed in 1791, which raises some issues that need to be dealt with, especially with how it describes and represents women. Women are described as only being able to fulfil her destiny with a man by her side, for example. It is tricky situation to handle and those were the moments when the temperature in the opera house seemed to drop a few degrees. But better to have it included still so that there can be meaningful discussions around it, than edited out.

I very rarely say this, but in this instance it’s needed. This is a near-perfect production for this opera; it is beautiful, fantastical and fits the tone exactly right. The opera is enjoyable to children, adults, everyone. I can’t think of anyone who couldn’t get enjoyment from this, whether it’s their first ever opera, or their thousandth. The cast is an absolute pleasure to watch and I’m very much looking forward to seeing what Benjamin Hulett as Tamino and Elsa Dreisig as Pamina do next in their careers. They were brilliant in this must-see event.

Words by Stuart Martin.

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