Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Libretto: Emanuel Schikaneder
Director: David McVicar
Conductor: Julia Jones
For UK fans of this opera David McVicar’s production may well be known to you. Long running in the Royal Opera house (this was recorded in September 2017) it’s recognised as a quality version of Mozart’s complex work. For newcomers, it’s a superb introduction – and in this filmed incarnation there will be plenty of chances to engage with the detail that is potentially lost in the tumult and scale of a performance viewed in the auditorium.
At its heart, it’s a fairly traditionally structured fairy story of good and evil with a healthy layer of grown up threat and tension. Prince Tamino is chosen by the Queen of the Night to rescue her daughter Pamina from the evil Sarastro, sending her bird catcher Papageno along with him to “help”. Engaging with Sarastro and his brotherhood of priests and followers, the notion of good and evil for Tamino is overturned. Through three deadly trials the prince and Pamina are taught the value of virtue, obedience and honour by the brotherhood of light while night and its Queen are defeated.
The way this fairy story is told is problematic. Alongside spiritualist moralising, and Masonic ritual fetishising, there’s a rather uncomfortable aura of misogyny throughout. It’s always been there and noted in recent years as being at odds with the world we live in. Seeing it again today the sexism rings through even more clearly. Perhaps an audience, even one who knows the story well, will be able to find new layers to think through as they watch this.
Away from the textual problems, the focus can turn to the music and the production. It’s unquestionably exquisite – from the composition and performance of the music, to the singing, and the visual effect on this massive stage. David McVicar and designer John Macfarlane’s production is stunning and grand in person. It’s magnificently rich in places. On screen, through the camera’s eye, the detail available to the audience makes it possibly more arresting. Bright colours, deep shadows and blues with the quality of costuming the Royal Opera House is well known for. The translation to screen is well executed, as expected from a House that is so experienced in this area.
Under Jenny Jones’ baton the musicians are lively and light – backing an agile cast. Again under the camera the acting as well as the musical ability come through – it’s genuinely quite refreshing to see facial expressions and the minutiae of body language in a ROH production. This all just increases the intensity of the performances. As the Queen of the Night, Sabine Devieilhe smashes her famous aria Der Hölle Rache, showcasing with perfect clarity the top range of her soprano voice, and conveying the intensity of placing revenge and death over a mother’s feelings for her daughter. As Sarastro, Mika Kares’s velvet baritone conveys the pomp and authority the role needs. Roderick Williams shows a lovely comedic range in a playful performance as Papageno the bird catcher. As Tamino and Pamina Mauro Peter and Siobhan Stagg don’t steal the show as leads, but hold up well as focal points for a story on such a grand scale.
It’s a beautiful production, musically sound and engaging. An accessible entry to the world of top-tier opera for anyone, and an enjoyable rendition of an old favourite for those who already know and love the Magic Flute.
Available here until 3 July 2020