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2003-01, London ROH, Zauberflöte

Die Zauberflöte


“Keenlyside, meanwhile, plays Papageno as a Chaplinesque clown, at once funny and desperately sad.” The Guardian

Something of an acrobat as well as an outstanding actor, he made Papageno his own, as only a great artist can.” Opera News

Composer : Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Librettists : Emanuel Schikaneder
Venue and Dates : Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London
January, February 2003
(revived in June, July 2003 and in 2005)
Conductor : Sir Colin Davis & David Syrus
Director : David McVicar – New production
Performers :

Pamina : Dorothea Röschmann / Sally Matthews
Queen of the Night : Diana Damrau
Tamino : Will Hartmann
Sarastro : Franz-Josef Selig
Papageno : Simon Keenlyside
Papagena : Ailish Tynan
Speaker : Thomas Allen
Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House

Notes : This production was revived in June of the same year, and again in 2005.
This production is available on DVD. Click here for details:
Die Zauberflöte, Covent Garden 2003, DVD

Click here to read an interview about this production

BBC Radio 3 Interview, 10 February 2003

Click here to see what Janet thought of this Die Zauberflöte production: A review of two Papagenos




Rupert Christiansen chose Simon Keenlyside as Papageno for the Opera magazine supplement “In character, volume 2. Great singers in great roles.” August 2006. Here are some extracts…

“…not until I saw Simon Keenlyside in David McVicar’s production for the Royal Opera in 2003 did the character ever get off my nerves and into my heart.”

“For once, you could believe in his naivety. This Papageno seemed to be genuinely befuddled by humanity and much happier tootling among the birds…”

“Combined with this air of wistful, shambling innocence was his fluent physical athleticism, deployed with a subtlety and grace that was more Keaton than Chaplin in style-how on earth did he manage to slide halfway across the stage on his knees and not make it a mere slapstick stunt?”

“Normally, I nastily wish that Papagena didn’t come to rescue her mate and that he’d just shut up and get his head into that noose, but Keenlyside left me wishing him well and wondering how his brood of children turned out.


George Hall for Opera News May 2003


Colin Davis returned to Covent Garden to conduct Royal Opera’s Die Zauberflöte (seen Jan. 30). Davis’s Mozart these days seems precisely measured yet entirely spontaneous. Old-fashioned it may be in its avoidance of period gestures or mannerisms, but it seems to go to the very heart of the music and registers as wise, benign and humane.

David McVicar’s production sensibly junked the concept of a black Monostatos — Adrian Thompson’s sinister, bewigged courtier came surrounded by a group of similar grotesques. Though it began with a proper, sizable serpent in pursuit of Will Hartmann’s somewhat vocally insecure Tamino, McVicar’s staging, to designs by John Macfarlane, was no pantomime but a serious look at a serious piece — encompassing fairy-tale fantasy and earthy humor within its considered parameters. The overall look was eighteenth-century Enlightenment, with black-marble surrounds and imagery from the cosmos. As a coherent blend of the many constituents that go to make this one of the most diverse and enigmatic of repertory pieces, this visualization was as successful as any. It looks as if McVicar has given London audiences another addition to the long-term repertory.

Diana Damrau’s Queen of the Night had a patchy first aria but an absolutely flawless second. In between, she flounced around the stage as a great queen should. Dorothea Röschmann sang a Pamina of outstanding charm and delicacy, and she proved an actress of some personal magnetism. Franz-Josef Selig had all the notes for Sarastro; his refulgent tone started out with something of a wobble but later stabilized. Thomas Allen seemed luxury casting for the Speaker, though his voice is less incisive than of yore. But he’s still a commanding presence. Ailish Tynan made her mark as a Papagena of demotic immediacy and naturalness.

Yet Simon Keenlyside’s Papageno stole the show. There was something Chaplinesque in the pathos of his comedy that made him unusually lovable, and the crispness of his German, as intelligently inflected as any in the cast, brought him a winning directness. Something of an acrobat as well as an outstanding actor, he made Papageno his own, as only a great artist can.


Tim Ashley, The Guardian, 27  January 27, 2003
Rating: Four out of five stars

What, at the start of the 21st century, are we to make of Die Zauberflöte? Mozart’s fable, with its demands for truth, enlightenment and non-violence, has long been deemed a supreme humanitarian statement, and to hear it in dark times is to be conscious of our own betrayal of its vision.

Yet the opera has its troubling side. Its values are also white, male and elitist. Monostatos is deemed sinister because he is black. Pamina apart, women are disparaged. Man and wife, we are told, attain godliness, but godliness is reserved for a few. Tamino and Pamina, aristocrats both, achieve it in Sarastro’s spiritually organised community. The proletarian Papageno, however, is dispatched back to procreate in the outside world.

David McVicar’s new Royal Opera production deals with these ideological bifurcations at half measure. Racism is ducked by omission. Sections of the libretto have been rewritten to expunge the fact that Monostatos is black, and the character, played by Adrian Thompson, has been refashioned as a white Sadean grotesque.

McVicar does, however, lay bare the rest of the opera’s values. Will Hartmann’s Tamino barges into the Temple to find the Speaker (Thomas Allen) teaching a boy how to use an astrolabe, while a girl looks on, excluded from the lesson. Sarastro’s brotherhood, too, upholds male intellectual tradition: it is a parade of rationalist philosophers from the Renaissance to the 18th century, and Sarastro himself (Franz-Josef Selig, singing with an occasional wobble) swans about in imperial red. Diana Damrau’s Queen of the Night, her coloratura spattered like drops of acid, is a self-dramatising diva, vicious from the off.

The emotional focus falls, meanwhile, on Dorothea Röschmann’s Pamina and Simon Keenlyside’s Papageno. Röschmann’s Pamina, sung with intense beauty, embodies feisty female sexuality rather than the usual drooping passivity. Keenlyside, meanwhile, plays Papageno as a Chaplinesque clown, at once funny and desperately sad.

In this troubling world, music transcends the work’s moral proscriptions. The girl rejected by the Speaker has her fears calmed when Tamino plays his flute. The opera ends with Sarastro clutching the flute in the pained awareness that its power is something even he lacks.

In the pit, Colin Davis produces magic with every bar. You emerge from the production with the sense of wonderment that you should get from Die Zauberflöte – though you are also aware that, in an opera that elevates truth as the supreme moral imperative, its own ideology, however difficult, has not been truthfully exposed.


Rupert Christiansen for The Telegraph, 27 January 2003

No path and no pantomime

There is one good reason to catch the Royal Opera’s new production of Die Zauberflöte, and that is Simon Keenlyside’s Papageno. Normally, the birdcatcher is a character I find tiresomely whimsical and unfunny, and by the end of Act II I’d be only too delighted if he’d fulfil his threat of hanging himself. But Keenlyside makes his sheepish, sceptical cowardice touching as well as farcical. His athlete’s physique allows him to spring some brilliant gags, and he knocks off those infuriatingly catchy little tunes with a richness of tone and ease of phrasing that never becomes fussy or arty. A wonderful performance from one of the greatest singers of our day.

Nobody else on stage cuts the mustard. Dorothea Roschmann is clearly a fine and cultured musician, but I found her Pamina lacking in virginal simplicity – she’s too mature and Schwarzkopfy for a role written for a singer barely 17. Diana Damrau’s Queen of the Night was nothing to write home about if you recall what Edita Gruberova made of it, while Franz-Josef Selig’s Sarastro was simply ditchwater dull.

Will Hartmann’s Tamino made a mess of the Portrait aria, and improved only marginally later in the evening; with three British tenors capable of singing the role beautifully, I find this piece of casting baffling. I enjoyed Adrian Thompson’s unblacked-up Monostatos and the three boys were endearing, but the three ladies were ill-blended, and some of the smaller roles were simply not up to Covent Garden standard. The chorus was off form too.

All around me the cognoscenti were complaining about Colin Davis’s conducting – too slow, too leaden and dreadfully unstylish according to modern ideas of authenticity. I disagree. There’s a dreaminess about his approach that I find seductive. He doesn’t drive or even push the line – instead, he kisses it and lets it float. Yes, some tempi lack energy, but the music always glows, and I don’t care whether that’s authentic or not.

I leave David McVicar’s production to last, because there’s little to say about it. Audiences may well like it, and it’s certainly unobjectionable.

John Macfarlane’s designs are very pretty – the set is a darkly grand masonic hall and the late 18th-century costumes are gorgeous. There are some lovely painterly tableaux, and plenty of the usual cutesy stuff.

But McVicar doesn’t provide a path through the opera’s maze of good and evil or convey any idea of what it might be trying to tell us. Well, perhaps it isn’t trying to tell us anything much, in which case, let’s have a marvellous spectacular pantomime. Yet, despite liberal use of the Royal Opera House’s stage machinery, McVicar doesn’t provide any magic or enchantment either – the entrance of the Queen of the Night was feeble, and the use of drop curtains a cop-out. The net effect reminded me of a Harrods Christmas gift box, where you seem to be paying more for the wrapping than the contents.



Ruth Elleson for Opera Japonica, 2 February 2003


David McVicar’s new production of Die Zauberflöte, for the Royal Opera, was a charming enterprise whose uncomplicated direction and attractive designs, served the opera extremely well. In the main cast, Will Hartmann’s Tamino was really the only disappointment; his singing was too strident, too forceful of phrasing, to make the character sympathetic. Otherwise things were far more encouraging. Dorothea Roschmann’s warmly lyrical Pamina captivated the audience from the start; Diana Damrau’s Queen of the Night (though nobody could possibly have doubted the character’s real motives on the basis of this portrayal!) was a strong and sure virtuoso all the way up to the top; Franz-Josef Selig’s Sarastro, though a mite underpowered, was wonderfully resonant in his lowest register.

The Speaker was luxuriously cast – Thomas Allen, no less – and Adrian Thompson and Ailish Tynan offered lively support as Monostatos and Papagena. But all were comprehensively upstaged by Simon Keenlyside’s Papageno, not just hilarious and sympathetic but boisterous too, despite his hand being in plaster as a result of a fall through one of the set’s several trapdoors. In the pit, Colin Davis reinforced his Mozartian reputation; all in all, the evening was memorable and hugely enjoyable. Some (scheduled) cast changes took place at the end of the run, involving two members of the Royal Opera’s young artists’ scheme. Darren Jeffery made a fine job of the Speaker, but the immensely talented Sally Matthews was a disappointing Pamina, singing consistently sharp and not yet in command of the stage. At this performance, David Syrus conducted.



Anthony Holden, The Observer, 2 February 2, 2003

David McVicar’s new Magic Flute for Covent Garden is equally full of fussy stage business, and potentially of as much wise advice to a troubled world about the ideals of brotherhood and non-violence. But Mozart’s masonic message is lost amid an overly Grand Guignol über-panto, so heavy-handed it misses the lighter charms of this sublime score, so remorselessly camp it should be set in a Big Top.

Instead, McVicar favours the vast, monumental settings he brought to his recent ENO Tosca, with a dizzying mélange of visual styles flitting from Guardi to Brueghel to Hogarth. Each in its turn is effective enough, from the gothic grotesquery of Diana Damrau’s fine Queen of the Night to the restoration romping of Adrian Thompson’s wonder fully odious Monostatos.

But these changing tableaux seem like disparate set-pieces vying for attention against the dull thud of Sarastro’s stately court, all the more leaden for Franz-Josef Selig’s stodgy singing. With a Tamino (Will Hartmann) not yet up to the role, the evening belongs to Dorothea Röschmann’s Pamina, who triumphs over production values positively relishing masonic misogyny.

And to Simon Keenlyside’s perfect Papageno, beautifully sung and nimbly acted, the only authentically Mozartian performance in an evening conducted with old-fashioned languor by Colin Davis. How perverse of McVicar to land him with a mini-skirted trollop of a Papagena, gamely sung by Ailish Tynan in a clichéd Fifties look quite out of synch with the surrounding grandeur.

The show begins with a terrific serpent, in a commedia dell’arte style fetchingly maintained by winsome wild animals and a hilarious bird for Papageno to catch. If only McVicar had brought as light a touch to the rest of the proceeedings.

As it is, his very Royal Opera production will deservedly get posh bums on seats for years, but satisfied audiences will emerge with little idea of what Mozart and Schikaneder were on about.


Eduardo Benarroch for Operayre

La expectativa era inmensa, una nueva producción de un regiesseur que está en el tapete: David McVicar, en un teatro que está pasando un excelente momento y un elenco que realmente podría considerarse de primera línea.
No puse al director de orquesta en esta expectativa no por falta de respeto, ni tamoco porque la música me parece un aspecto de menor importancia, al contrario, justamente porque Colin Davis ya me había decepcionado con sus tempi y lectura de La Clemenza di Tito hace unos meses, que no esperaba mucho de él.
La premiere, un sabado a la noche, fué un lleno total, la ópera deleitó porque es una gran ópera y porque la mayoría de sus artistas cumplieron una labor muy meritoria. Faltó algo esencial estos días , el concepto., que los críticos ingleses odian a muerte.
Es obvio que Mc Vicar no se ha ocupado al mínimo detalle con laópera, pero sí ha discernido lo suficiente para presentar una visión de una sociedad misógina, displicente, llena de sí misma.
Es fácil entender la furia de la Reina de la Noche, la excelente cantante Diana Damrau, quien no sólo ha sido de un plumazo despojada de su posición social, sino se ha raptado a su hija Pamina.
La misoginia de la sociedad de Sarastro es evidente en el texto, pero que bien la presenta la caracterización de Thomas Allen del Orador, rodeado de dos niños, y con que arrogancia despide a la niña para enseñarle sólo al varón. Esto ya hace poner la piel de gallina y ya pone al espectador en contra de esa sociedad discriminatoria.
Muchos críticos isleños se quejaron de que Monostatos es presentado como un hombre de mediana edad, blanco y de peluca empolvada. Porqué? si de todos modos el racismo de la obra es clarísimo y se desprende del diálogo y de las situaciones…a pesar de todo, Adrian Thompson convenció en el rol.

No es necesario ver a Monostatos como negro para discernir su frustración.

Hubo un excelente debut, el de la soprano alemana Dorothea Röschmann, una voz de lujo, a quien ya había escuchado hace años como Susanna en Berlin bajo la dirección de Daniel Barenboim. Su voz es ahora más rica, más lírica, pero igualmente conmovedora y es también un a buena actriz.

Decepcionó sin embargo el Tamino de Will Hartmann, cuya voz demuestra el endurecimiento de quién está pasando de barítono a tenor mozartiano, muchas de sus notas sonaron apretadas y descuidó la línea a menudo. El timbre es grato, pero la transición todavía no es completamente exitosa.

Franz-Josef Selig cantó un imponente Sarastro, pero sin la amenaza o redondez vocal que imprimía alguien como Kurt Moll; quizás con otro director escénico hubiera encontrado más matices, pero su debut fué algo de calidad.

Dejo para el final el extraordinario Papageno de Simon Keenlyside, un muchacho travieso, inquieto, romántico, dulcísimo y por fin extraordinariamente bien cantado sin exageración, un verdadero ser humano y no una caricatura.

Excelente también la Papagena de Ailish Tynan, joven cantante delgrupo de jóvenes cantantes becados por el Mecenas Alberto Vilar.
La escenografía es convencional pero satisfactoria, no desea y por lo tanto no entra en ningún recoveco interpretativo que antes no se conocía. Pero es efectiva.

Lo que si decepcionó, y ya es más de una vez, es la dirección anodina y autosatisfecha de Colin Davis,, que pasa con este otrora buen director?

Sus tempi se han achanchado, son pesados, super-románticos pero sin gracia, sin elegancia, es como nadar en un mar de miel….y aún peor, los ensembles fueron descuidados, muchos cantantes cantaron valores de notas diferentes que la orquesta, y los problemas que encontraron la tres damas de desencuentros de conjunto fueron debidos a fallas de dirección y no de cantantes. Para que están los ensayos?

Habrá que pensar en otro director la próxima vez que se presenbte Mozart y creo también que es hora que David McVicar se tome un descanso. Esta vez pasó raspando, pero se nota cansancio intelectual, ideas a medio cocer, algo que también le ha sucedido a Francesca Zambello. La culpa no es de ellos, es de quienes los contratan sin darles tiempo a madurar y pensar las cosas.



Edward Seckerson, the Independent, 30 January 2003


Shedding light on Mozart

Guided by illuminated orbs held out before them like astrological compasses, young men in frock-coats led the way, processing down the aisles of the Temple of Arts, formally known as the Royal Opera House.A tiny door from the darkened auditorium opened on to yet more darkness beyond. A place uncharted – infinite night. Music of mystery and merriment played all the while, under the distinguished baton of Sir Colin Davis. Could this be the dawning of the Age of Enlightenment?

It could. A long day’s journey from night. David McVicar’s new staging of Mozart’s Die Zauberflote unfolds entirely in shadow. His designer John F Macfarlane and lighting designer Paule Constable lose us in endless black-marbled corridors with shifting walls and gaunt doorways.

The spectre of freemasonry is much in evidence, but it’s worn far less cumbersomely than is sometimes the case. More prevalent are the symbols of astrology and of science, once seen as “the dark arts”. When Mozart’s librettist, Emanuel Schikaneder, reached for his masonic metaphor it was precisely for that reason. Maria Theresa had used force to break up the lodges. Fear of the unknown. Schikaneder saw the mileage in that. Ignorance is fearful. It resides in darkness. With knowledge comes light. And we shall be enlightened. Simple.

Well, simple for some. For Papageno the learning does not come easily. This loveable birdcatcher is the character we most identify with. And any production of Die Zauberflote largely stands or falls on his skills. Not as a birdcatcher, I hasten to add – this one almost has him outfoxed and upstaged by a witty piece of puppeteering (just one aspect of 18th-century stagecraft that McVicar exploits) – but as a clown, a reluctant master of ceremonies.

Simon Keenlyside’s Papageno is a complete winner, one of the best things this talented artist has yet given us. He plays the spoken text – in German, of course – as if it were his native tongue. His charm, his cockiness, his bewilderment, his verbal and physical comedy, all are beautifully judged. He’s natural and he’s touching.

There’s a marvellous moment in his early duet with Pamina where hope quite literally shines through the gloom. The excellent Dorothea Roschmann spins one of those phrases that brush with the sublime as only Mozart can. Roschmann’s lovely voice arched from shining top to dusky bottom of the register in one enticing breath, and that’s where McVicar has us, fleetingly, tantalisingly, see the light.

The rest of the casting – with the notable exception of the Three Ladies (Gillian Webster, Christine Rice, and Yvonne Howard), who were outstanding – was less consistent. Will Hartmann’s Tamino sounded like a pushed-up baritone, pinched in the upper reaches and none too reliable in pitch; Franz-Josef Selig’s imposingly built Sarastro only really came into focus for me at the profundo end of his register; and Diana Damrau’s Queen of the Night certainly struck a blow for the forces of retrogression with her top-F-popping second aria having somewhat swallowed too much of her first.

Sir Colin Davis gave us the benefit of his wisdom throughout, somewhat portly at times but balanced and blended and “sung” (wonderful work from the woodwinds) with sensitivity and relish. And when the golden sun was finally rolled out like a ripe and wholesome cheese, enlightenment was palpable in the sound.










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