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David McVicar plays it relatively safe with this Magic Flute production for the Royal Opera. The stage is virtually bare and dark surrounded by occasional pillars and fractions of black marble walls often covered in a mysterious mist. Costumes are eclectic, ranging from the 17th century until present day and includes glitzy gala dresses as well as workingman outfits. The occasional moon or stars pop up in the background as well as semi-imaginary applications like a red tree with blue leaves. Elements of children´s theater, such as a bird being moved by an actor and a mâche dragon contribute to the overall exquisite and fairy-tale impression of this elegant and underplayed staging. Almost too polished and smooth, one may argue, but otherwise hard to criticize.
None of the principals are less than good (well maybe one is) and some are frankly outstanding, mainly Simon Keenlyside and Dorothea Röschmann.
Simon Keenlyside´s Papageno is a weary working man (bird-catcher) and not the ridiculous figure he is often made out to be. Instead he is rather awkward. His dry voice and excellent physical acting makes him ideal for this part, the best I have seen him in. Will Hartmann is a rather stiff actor and seems strained vocally as well in the thankless part of Tamino, who furthermore suffers by being completely upstaged by Simon Keenlyside.
Dorothea Röschmann is a superb Pamina, mainly because she is stylish and unsentimental. And apart from having a beautiful voice, she sings and acts with a firm character unusual for the often wining Paminas.
I belong to what I suspect is a minory not particularly taken with Diana Damrau, finding her voice uninteresting and her presence rather irritating. However to say that vastly better Queen of the Nights walk around out there, I cannot do either..
Franz-Josef Selig is simply not a very good Sarastro. That he lacks the majesty and gravitas of the truly great is one thing. Worse, however, he is rather wobbly and has trouble in both ends of the register.
No doubt that Sir Colin Davis is a fine Mozartean with a rather transparent and elegant approach, not unlike Claudio Abbado. As someone still swearing to Otto Klemperer´s dense interpretation, I´d personally prefer Riccardo Muti from the 2006 Salzburg production. being the most direct competition on DVD as well. Cases made be made for owning both productions, especially for fans of the Magic Flute.
Simon Keenlyside as Papageno:
The bottom line:
Simon Keenlyside: 5
Dorothea Röschmann: 5
Diana Damrau: 4
Will Hartmann: 2-3
Franz-Josef Selig: 2-3
David McVicars production: 4
Sir Colin Davis: 4
Overall impression: 4