The Magic Flute REVIEW: Revival No 10 and still full of energy
The brave Prince Tamino is commissioned by the powerful Queen of the Night to rescue her daughter Pamina from the clutches of the supposedly evil Sarastro. Tamino’s quest is given added impetus by his falling in love with Pamina as soon as he sees a picture of her, but it turns out that the Queen of the Night is the real bad guy and Sarastro is a bit of a misogynistic control freak, but apart from that is fair and decent.
None of these main characters, however, is the real star of the opera which, after all, is basically a comedy and all the humour is provided by Tamino’s reluctant and cowardly helper and companion, the bird-catcher Papageno.
In this production, Papageno was played by British baritone Huw Montague Rendall, making his Royal Opera House debut and he totally stole the show.
From the opening act in which Papageno displays his bird-catching techniques chasing a gloriously operated bird puppet on wheels, Montague Rendall threw himself around with great energy and displayed fine comic timing and acting skills.
The extent to which he endeared himself to the audience seemed to surprise even him in the second act when all seemed to have gone wrong and he was preparing to hang himself.
After pleading for anyone to save him, Papageno asks the audience whether he should hang himself: “Ruft nur, Ja oder Nein,” (Speak up: Yes or No), and most unusually, several people in the audience shouted back in true pantomime style: “Nein!” This is not the sort of thing one often sees at Covent Garden, and certainly not in German.
The rest of the cast could not even try to compete with such comic genius, if only because Papageno has all the funny lines anyway.
The Swiss tenor Bernard Richter brought a powerful and melodious voice to the part of Tamino, and Georgina soprano Salome Jicia was a perfectly good Tamina, though these are roles it is difficult to play with great authority when Papageno is having such fun.
Polish bass Krzysztof Baczyk also sang well in the role of Sarastro, though he also seemed to lack authority through not delivering the booming bass voice I usually associate with the role.
American soprano Brenda Rae, as Queen of the Night, however, after a slow start in the opening act, delivered her second act aria with terrifyingly appropriate rage after the interval.
I must also give special praise to Rafael Flutter, Benjamin Jardim and Victor Wiggin, who gave remarkably confident and mature performances as the three boy trebles who help get Tamino and Papageno out of trouble at critical moments in their quest.
Revival Director Daniel Dooner is to be congratulated on conjuring such strong performances from these precocious talents.
● Tickets and information here or on 020 7304 4000; various dates until 7 October
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