23 Apr 2013

Die Zauberflöte, Royal Opera

Back for its fourth revival, David McVicar’s 2003 production of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte has much charm, beauty and artistry.

But, with the oft-exhumed sets now looking rather creased and crumpled, on this occasion some of the sparkle seemed to have rubbed off.

ZAUBERFLOTE_ROH_1197.pngEkaterina Siurina as Pamina

Dedicated to the late Sir Colin Davis (who conducted the premiere and the most recent revival in 2011), this performance was at times disappointingly lacklustre: the crescent moon gleamed and glinted, the sumptuous tableaux impressed, the choreography was slick, but overall there was an absence of simple youthful vitality and dreamy enchantment.

Conductor Julia Jones established some brisk tempi; she was perhaps a bit too swift for her players at the start, for the opening three ‘knocks at the door’ were rather messy, lacking in masonic authority and imperiousness. Certainly there was tension and anxiety during Tamino’s tussle with the serpent, but elsewhere Jones might have adopted a more spacious, composed approach — for there the opera presents much farce and fury but also sobriety and solemnity.

Reprising the role of Papageno, Christopher Maltman was in superb form, relishing the physical and vocal humour and winning over the audience with his mischievous appeal and essential good nature. Maltman’s duet with Ekaterina Siurina (Pamina), ‘Bei Männern welche Liebe fühlen’, in which they reflect on the sacred duties and divine purity of marital love, was one of the highlights of the evening — although it did unfortunately expose Siurina’s somewhat unidiomatic German pronunciation alongside Maltman’s immaculate diction.

ZAUBERFLOTE_ROH_0587.pngChristopher Maltman as Papageno and Ekaterina Siurina as Pamina

Siurina’s soprano is wonderfully rounded and rich — and she possesses a similarly beautiful, touching pianissimo too, as she proved in a deeply heart-rending ‘Ach, ich fuhls’. She can bring a characterful glint to her voice, but to my ear the overall tone was a little too full for the role and her stage persona rather too assertive and spirited.

The same was true of her Tamino, Charles Castronovo, who strode the stage with the same confident ease with which he vocally assailed the melodic heights; but, while his athleticism and purposefulness brought some expedient dynamism to the production, surely Tamino is a prince learning his heroic craft rather than a king who has already earned his stripes. After a slightly hesitant start musically, Castronovo’s tone was gracious and dignified, and his articulation of the text matched Maltman’s for clarity. Technically secure throughout, his Act 1 aria ‘Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön’ was certainly ardent but a little lacking in youthful freshness.

Albina Shagimuratova was a pitch-perfect Queen of the Night, dispatching the coloratura extravagances of ‘O zittre nicht, mein lieber Sohn’ with grace and buoyancy. Her effortless runs did not always convey the necessary glint of latent malevolence, however, and she made a less striking dramatic impact than one might have expected. ‘Der Hölle Rache’ was less polished technically but the tone was still gleaming and sweet.

ZAUBERFLOTE_ROH_0565.pngAlbina Shagimuratova as Queen of the Night

As Sarastro, Brindley Sherratt, singing with rich lyricism and poise, was suitably dignified but like Shagimuratova, at times needed more stage presence and profundity. Peter Hoare deftly emphasised the hyperactive hypocrisy of the villainous Monostatos.

The minor roles were all laudable with Sebastian Holocek a distinctive Speaker, and David Butt Philip and Jihoon Kim commendable in the roles of the First and Second Armed Man respectively. Susana Gaspar overcame the ugly inaptness of her Essex-girl attire as a perky Papagena who wins over her Papageno.

Overall, this production is beautiful to the eye and ear, but despite the zippy tempi it felt rather weary; time has dulled the magic dust.

Claire Seymour

Cast and production:

Tamino — Charles Castronovo; First Lady — Anita Watson; Second Lady — Hanna Hipp; Third Lady — Gaynor Keeble; Papageno — Christopher Maltman; Queen of the Night — Albina Shagimuratova; Pamina — Ekaterina Siurina; Monostatos — Peter Hoare; First Boy — Archie Buchanan; Second Boy — Luciano Cusack; Third Boy — Filippo Turkheimer; Speaker of the Temple — Sebastian Holecek; Sarastro — Brindley Sherratt; First Priest— Harry Nicoll; Second Priest— Donald Maxwell Pagagena — Susana Gaspar; First Man in Armour — David Butt Philip; Second Man in Armour — Jihoon Kim; Conductor —Julia Jones; David McVicar — Director; Leah Hausman — Revival & Movement Director; John Macfarlane — Designs; Paule Constable — Lighting Design. Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, Tuesday, 16th April 2013.