Die Zauberflöte - Royal Opera House, 1 February 2011
While no performance of Die Zauberflöte ever really disappoints, this latest revival of David McVicar's bitty production is strangely deflated.
The best thing going for it on opening night was the conducting of Sir Colin Davis. Some thought it slow and draggy; I found it contemplatively-paced, a refreshingly old-fashioned break from the mad-dash of the period stylists. But there's no question the Royal Opera House orchestra play beautifully for him, nor that he reaches in and burnishes detail with warmth and affection. Perhaps more worrying were the number of disconnections between stage and pit, by no means all the singers' fault.
That the best singing of the evening came from the Three Ladies (Elisabeth Meister, Kai Rüütel and Gaynor Keeble) and the Speaker (Matthew Best) gives some idea of the quality of the rest. Christopher Maltman makes an engaging, wide-eyed Papageno, but he lacked line or consistency of tone on this occasion. Kate Royal's voice has darkened and broadened since she had her baby a year or so ago, and though beautifully sung, there's an unavoidable knowingness to her Pamina. I'd like to hear her branch out into roles that suit her new voice better.
Joseph Kaiser's Tamino was a let-down. He looks the part, but his thin, reedy voice doesn't cut it. Worse still was the baffling casting of Jessica Pratt as Queen of the Night. She shows promise, but is simply not ready to play a role like this on a stage like Covent Garden. She gave what looked and sounded like a student audition - wispy tone, aspirated runs, not an ounce of authority, and no idea how to move on stage. To add insult to injury, the sparkly costume which lent ice skater glamour to Diana Damrau made Pratt's more ample frame resemble a Xmas bauble. I felt sorry for her.
On the plus side, Franz-Josef Selig made a dignified Sarastro, and Peter Hoare dutifully camped up his foppish Monostatos as required by McVicar's racially-neutered production. Including small boys in his band of identically-wigged cohorts is one of the show's real genius touches. One of the less successful is the caricature of Papagena as a squirming, giggling slapper - Anna Devin did well to make her seem human.
Could have been worse - should have been better.
production photos: Mike Hoban for Royal Opera House
curtain call photos: intermezzo.typepad.com