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2005-02, London ROH, Zauberflöte

Die Zauberflöte


Composer : Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Librettist : Emanuel Schikaneder
Venue and Dates : Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London
14, 16, 21, 26, 28 February, 3, 4 March 2005
Conductor : Sir Charles MacKerras
Director : Lee Blakeley (revival of the 2003 McVicar production)
Designs : John McFarlane
Lighting : Paule Constable
Choreography : Leah Hausman
Performers :

Tamino : Will Hartmann / Robert Murray (26 Feb, 4 March)
Pamina : Rebecca Evans / Katie van Kooten (26 Feb)
Papageno :  Simon Keenlyside
Queen of the Night : Anna-Kristiina Kaappola / Diana Damrau (3 March) / Erika Miklósa (4 March)
Sarastro : Jan-Hendrik Rootering
Monostatos : John Graham-Hall / Adrian Thompson (28 Feb, 3, 4 March)
First Lady : Gillian Webster / Victoria Nava (3 March)
Second Lady : Clarissa Meek
Third Lady : Yvonne Howard
Papagena : Gail Pearson
Speaker : Kyle Ketelsen
First Priest : Robert Murray / Andrew H Sinclair (26 Feb, 4 March)
Second Priest : Matthew Rose
First Man in Armour : Alan Oke
Second Man in Armour : Graeme Danby (14, 16, 21, 23 Feb) / Graeme Broadbent (26, 28 Feb, 3, 4 March)
First Boy : John Hewitt-Jones
Second Boy :  David Stark
Third Boy : Zico Shaker
The Royal Opera Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House.
Chorus Director : Renato Balsadonna
Concert Master : Peter Manning

Notes : This was a revival of the 2003 production.The 2003 production is available on DVD.
Click here for details: Die Zauberflöte, Covent Garden, 2003, DVD

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


George Hall, Opera Magazine, April 2005

In a league of his own, despite the considerable merits of Evans’ Pamina, was Simon Keenlyside’s Papageno. Forgetting for the moment (though of course you never will) the genuine risk-taking athleticism of his performance – nothing would induce me to slide halfway across the stage on my knees like that, not even Mozart in person – and the perfectly judged Chaplinesque blend of pathos and comedy he brings to the role, avoiding entirely the sentimental or the vulgar, there’s the skill of a great lieder singer on top form every time he opens his mouth. Each generation, perhaps, throws up one, maybe two, great Papagenos. Keenlyside is certainly ours. It says nothing about the artist, of course, that he withdrew so swiftly from the tumult of applause that greeted his curtain call, so as to avoid embarassing the next performer to take one, but it does say something about the man.

Michael Tanner, The Spectator, 26 February 2005

“The compelling reason for going is Simon Keenlyside’s Papageno, which has now achieved the status of a great classic performance, not only funny and astoundingly acrobatic, but also poignant and with a profound insight into the miseries of being ordinary in a perplexing and demanding world.”


Robert Thicknesse, The Times, 16 February 2005


An odd thing about David McVicar’s productions is the way they improve with time. When this show first appeared it was too po-faced by half, full of regard for the pomposities of the piece but hardly at ease with its lightness, enchantment and childish simplicity.

Well, now the staging has grown a heart and a sense of wonder and comes close to truly discovering both the gravity and play of the piece. How much of this is due to Lee Blakeley, who took charge of this revival, is hard to say, but the pattern is interesting.
What has happened is that Papageno, pricelessly played and sung by Simon Keenlyside as a melancholy clown, has become the absolute centre of the conception rather than some charming sideshow. It is his instincts — nuanced and humanistic without becoming self-conscious — that everything else is measured against; when he rolls into a desolate ball as Tamino rejects Pamina, and then spits out his simple disgust with Sarastro’s “becoming a man” flatulence, you can’t help agreeing with him. Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen is full of light and shade and mood swings, opening up new depths. Papagena (Gail Pearson) breezes in from the future in leather and leopard-print, bringing real joy and uplift as well as a mobile-bedful of kiddies: Papageno bounces about with restored rubbery energy to cap an amazing, moving performance.

The show’s original strength, a grave and stately beauty highlit by some exceptionally lovely 18th-century designs by John Macfarlane, brilliantly lit by Paule Constable, is still there, Sarastro’s temple full of shifting shadows and mystery. McVicar’s doubledistancing device of presenting the thing as if in an 18th-century theatre (a foot-operated bird for Papageno, Chinese-style dragon worked by actors) risks being arch but isn’t because the simple things — the little morals, Papageno and Pamina coming to sit over the pit to sing Bei Männern — work so honestly.

And it should get better. First-night music was amazingly inconsistent, Charles Mackerras’s plodding conducting at odds with his programme-note on Mozart’s tempi (until a double-quick Ach, ich fühl’s, and a wonderfully scurrying accompaniment to Monostatos), a workmanlike Tamino from Will Hartmann, Jan-Hendrik Rootering’s floundering Sarastro, and a Queen of the Night (Anna-Kristiina Kaappola) who started tight, sour and unfocused before hitting her stride. But Rebecca Evans’s beautifully sculpted phrases and womanly warmth as Pamina were breathtaking, the boys were confident and robust, and John Graham-Hall was a great panto-villain Monostatos straight out of Rocky Horror with his gang of time-warping munchkins. At last this is a Flute to lift the heart.


Erica Jeal, The Guardian, Wednesday 16 February 2005

Rating: Four stars out of five

With his Clemenza di Tito at ENO overlapping with his Zauberflöte at Covent Garden, David McVicar seems to be bidding for a monopoly on London’s supply of Mozart opera. And no bad thing. Revived by Lee Blakeley, his 2003 Zauberflöte may tell us more about man’s changing view of his place in the world at the time of the opera’s composition than it does about the struggle between good and evil, but at least it tells us something.

Nor does McVicar forget that this is meant to be an entertainment, and, even in a dark, imposing staging given in the original German, there are a few laughs. The chief provider of these is also one of two reasons to catch this revival – Simon Keenlyside, who returns as Papageno. You’re unlikely to hear the role better sung – or, indeed, see it better acted. Keenlyside’s bird-catcher is miles away from the normal cuddly buffoon: he is comic and athletic but wistful with

Will Hartmann is a warm-sounding, slightly stiff Tamino, and Anna-Kristiina Kaappola’s Queen of the Night fires her top notes with rounded clarity. Rebecca Evans’s Pamina is a more forceful character all round, and her soprano is filling out nicely. Thanks partly to the fast tempo, her aria Ach ich fühls takes on a lilt not entirely appropriate for the opera’s emotional centre, but this is still an engaging performance.

Gail Pearson’s Papagena, first appearing disguised like Cilla Black on a hen night, seems to have teetered in from another production, but is sparkily sung. Only Jan-Hendrik Rootering’s underpowered Sarastro is a comedown.

The second reason not to miss this, however, is Charles Mackerras’s conducting. There are times when the ROH Orchestra sounds like a real period band, in the best sense. It’s a treat to hear the bassoons huffing away with such point and focus, and the strings, swept along by those bass lines, are consistently lively too. The staging may be dark, but there’s plenty of light coming from the pit.


Anthony Holden, The Observer, 20 February 2005


With Mozart’s 250th birthday coming up next year, we must brace ourselves for a thrilling onslaught of the highest calibre – which has, perhaps, already begun with Sir Charles Mackerras limbering up for a Magic Flute at Glyndebourne this summer with an elegant Zauberflöte at Covent Garden.

In his 80th year, Mackerras has as much spring in his musical step as ever, lifting the overture to new heights before setting such a cracking pace that the chorus, and some of the soloists, occasionally had trouble keeping up. David McVicar’s two-year-old production, revived by Lee Blakeley, emphasises the dark solemnity of the piece amid much droll campery. John F. Macfarlane’s sets are truly monumental, with Paule Constable’s lighting doing almost as much talking as the music. But the climactic ‘trial scene’ falls flat, and I still object to the ‘old’ Papagena arriving as a mini-skirted tart as much as Monostatos becoming a cross between a Restoration fop and panto’s Baron Hardup.

That said, Rebecca Evans makes a very fetching Pamina and Anna-Kristina Kaappola a young-looking Queen of the Night who hits all those notes spot-on without quite bringing out the goosebumps. With the bulk of Brando but less vocal heft, Jan-Hendrick Rootering is a Sarastro below Covent Garden standards, while Will Hartmann makes as dull and note-curdling a Tamino as he did first time around.

Aside from Mackerras, the star of the show is Simon Keenlyside, as authentically Mozartian (or, more accurately, Schikanederian) a Papageno as you will ever see. It is not just Keenlyside’s famed athletic prowess, which has him hurling himself around the stage in high style; his deadpan comic sense serves him as well as his effortlessly rich baritone in a part that might have been written for him. To think that he is also one of the definitive Don Giovannis of
the day … this is one of the great British stars-in-the-rising.

Parties of freemasons looking for hints on brotherhood and world peace will not find them in this production, which is heavy on ritual but light on metaphysics.

Few stagings of recent years (and there have been many) begin with quite so scary a serpent, or continue with such a light touch amid all that earnestness. As Flutes go, this one has almost enough magic but far too little charm.


The Sunday Times, 20 February 2005

Most of the enchantment at Monday’s revival came from the pit, plus Simon Keenlyside’s wonderful Papageno, as funny, touching and beautifully sung as any I have heard in the past 30 years… Keenlyside’s German is hardly less idiomatic than a native Viennese Papageno’s, and he gives his all: athleticism, the slapstick timing of a professional clown, an endearing, fed-up-to-the-back-teeth truculence with the arcane rituals of priesthood, and a child of nature’s lack of sexual inhibitions. This great artist is at his peak in this classic comic performance. For Keenlyside alone, the revival is unmissable…

Michael Kennedy, The Sunday Telegraph, 20 February 2005

Aside from the excellence of his singing, Keenlyside’s portrayal of the birdcatcher is physically athletic, an operatic sublimation of the music-hall acts of generations ago, tumbling, dancing and vaulting, but never depriving the character of his lovableness and naive appeal. It is a classic and very personal interpretation, only to be imitated by other artists at their peril.

Stephen Pettitt, The Evening Standard, 15 February 2005

DIE Zauberflote is an opera both solemn and frivolous, both vast and intimate. It can sit as well upon a large stage as upon a small one, but in the case of David McVicar’s 2003 Royal Opera production, here revived by Lee Blakeley, does not. Grimly lit giant marble halls – the stuff of Verdi, not Mozart – dominate. Gaudy colours are out, save for Act I’s giant crescent moon and Act IIs flaming rising sun. Despite an abundance of periwigs in Hogarthian satirical style, it’s often more Gormenghast than Enlightenment, especially so when an unusuaIly diabolic Monostatos and entourage take the stage. It looks and feels wrong. That might matter less were the singing and acting better than ordinary. With one exception, they’re not.

Tamino is given by Will Hartmann. For much of Act I last night he sang with a greyish voice and inelegant phrasing. He was better in Act II – so was most of the cast – yet he still lacked a certain warmth. Rebecca Evans’s Pamina sounded fruity yet her acting was stiff, her words indistinct. The Finnish soprano Anna Kristiina Kaappola, as the Queen of the Night hit her high Fs dead-centre but lacked both volume and the requisite malice.

Jan-Hendrik Rootering’s Sarastro was underpowered at the lower end of the register and again awkwardly acted. Gail Pearson’s Papagena – a fake leopardskin-clad, gin-swigging floozy turned underdressed temptress – was well enough done, and The Three Boys, driving a chariot of wooden planks, were sturdy and sure, but those are smallish contributions.

Simon Keenlyside’s Papageno, however, almost redeemed the show. With wooly hat and baggy brown trousers, he offered an exquisitely crafted piece of acting portraying an unusually sensitive simpleton by means of wonderfully expressive eyes and subtle inflections of his facial muscles. It happened also that he was by some distance the most distinguished and distinctive voice on stage, resonant, characterful and at ease with everything he did.

It’s rare that Sir Charles Mackerras does anything less than saintly in an opera pit, but, despite neat orchestral playing, this production rather, ties his hands.

Simon Keenlyside’s Papageno, however, almost redeemed the show. With wooly hat and baggy trousers, he offered an exquisitely crafted piece of acting, portraying an unusually sensitive simpleton by means of wonderfully expressive eyes and subtle inflecions in his facial muscles. It happened that he was by some distance the most distinguished and distinctive voice on stage, resonant, characterful, at ease with everything he did.

Dominic McHugh, musicOMH.com


The Magic Flute is more of a cultural phenomenon than many operas.

For over two hundred years writers have been arguing over the “meaning” of the work, trying to probe its Masonic mysticism. Another aspect of the opera’s reception is the attitude towards its “genre”. Some performances portray it as mere pantomime, while others give it an almost Wagnerian heaviness.

The fact that it is a Singspiel also makes it slightly unusual, as the music frequently stops to give way to spoken dialogue. The latter can cause its problems in performance, as international opera singers are not really trained to speak normally in the theatre. In the Royal Opera’s latest revival of its 2003 David McVicar production, however, there were few problems of any kind. Indeed, this was one of the best performances by the company in recent times, extremely well paced, sung, acted and spoken. It was also a comparatively speedy performance, ending a good fifteen minutes before the published finishing time.

For this, the conductor must take the credit. Perhaps the star of the show – though there were several in this performance – was Sir Charles Mackerras, celebrating his 80th year by conducting these performances. The orchestra was far less sluggish than when Colin Davis conducted this production two years ago, and from the overture onwards there was a focus and drive to its playing that carried the performance. Mackerras’ reading does not sound rushed, but it is generally on the fast side, which made the opera sound fresh and invigorating.

Vocally, the cast was fairly even, but for me the stand-out performance was by Rebecca Evens, making her debut in the role of Pamina. It really is worth going to see this Flute just to hear Evans. Unlike some of the other singers, she warmed up immediately, giving an absolutely ravishing performance of the Pamina/Papageno duet Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen. She shone in all the ensembles and gave an unconventionally fast performance of her aria Ach, ich fühl’s – and it worked.

Papageno was played by the ever-wonderful Simon Keenlyside. True, his is not the largest of voices, but what he does with it is a miracle. He somehow brings a Lied-singer’s refinement to a role that is often played for laughs, while still maintaining the comic side of Papageno.

Will Hartmann’s Tamino took a little longer to grow on me, but by the end of the first act he had managed to recover from a shaky and excessively heavy start to produce a luxuriant tone. Similarly, the veteran Jan-Hendrik Rootering did not project particularly well in his first couple of appearances, but later regained the warm tone shown in his 2002 Hans Sachs (in Wagner’s Meistersinger) to provide a satisfying performance. The fiendishly difficult role of the Queen of the Night was tackled with admirable confidence and panache by Anna-Kristiina Kaappola. Her upper range is extremely secure and unstrained, but the subtler side of the music (for instance in the recitative to her first aria, O zittre nicht) sometimes eluded her.

Special credit should go to the Three Ladies, who were outstanding. Gillian Webster, Clarissa Meek and in particular Yvonne Howard (as the Third Lady) got the show off to a fabulous start with outstandingly pure singing in these roles. Gail Pearson was a beautiful Papagena, and John Graham-Hall made sure that Monostatos’ passages were elegantly phrased.

The chorus was very impressive too, and David McVicar’s production has benefited from being directed here by Lee Blakeley. While John Macfarlane’s sets remain a little too dark – some contrast would be welcome occasionally – the action seems more focused than last time around, and the elements of magic, mystery, lies and love were brought together in a very special evening.

Eduardo Benarroch, operyre.com, 16 February 2005


No es la primera vez que me sucede, y en realidad debo admitir que me pasa todo el tiempo, pero cada vez que escucho La Flauta Mágica me pregunto si no sería algo interesante para las Naciones Unidas hacer un Congreso Internacional y encerrar todos los gobernantes claves con el libreto y la música de esta ópera.

Es posible aunque idealista, que algo se logre aunque sea poco.

La reposición de la Ópera Real es la tercera reposición desde que fuese estrenada hace dos años. Y como casi todas las reposiciones en esta casa es un exitazo.

Parecería que todas las reposiciones son mejores que las premier en esta casa…

De todos modos, cualquier cosa que sea dirigida por Charles Mackerras merece la pena ser escuchada, y sus apariciones como director de ópera son raras en esta capital y hay que aprovecharlas.

Mackerras tiene ideas específicas acerca de la música de Mozart. Sus investigaciones académicas lo han llevado a descubrir tempi extremos para las arias, en especial el aria de Pamina “Ach ich fühl’s ” que toma a 132 la corchea.

Para aquellos acostumbrados a versiones románticas de la ópera y de Mozart en particular esto resultará un choque, porque en realidad debido a muchas influencias la forma en que se interpreta a Mozart se ha achanchado estirando los tempi, usando rubati (! por favor) y en general deformando el discurso mozartiano a tal punto que su voz parece irreconocible.

Y no deseo caer en la trampa de decir “esto no es Mozart” porque en realidad nadie sabe lo que es, pero sí lo que le es ajeno y lo que no se debe hacer con esta música sublime.

Mientras que en la premier dos años atrás me enojé con la dirección de Colin Davis que sonó pesada como si se nadase en melaza, al menos la reposición contó con directores que le dieron mas brío a la obra, primero con David Syrus, un director de la casa que dirige muy bien todo pero que rara vez tiene la oportunidad de hacerlo, y luego con Philippe Jordan que también le dio gran impulso dramático.

Con Mackerras las cosas cambiaron aún mas, porque Mackerras le dió no solo impulso sino claridad y liviandad además de fraseo y un enfoque totalmente diferente, mucho mas dramatico y menos romántico, en realidad, Mackerras tiró al romanticismo por la ventana y enbuebahora.

Cómo reaccionaron los cantantes frente a tal desafío?

En general muy bien, pero conste que Mackerras no eligió a sus cantantes personalmente y por eso hubieron fallas de elenco que pasaré a detallar junto a los aciertos.

La Pamina de Rebecca Evans fué puesta por las nubes por la prensa local. La Evans es una cantante que conozco bien porque fué mi esposa quien le dio un premio de canto que la lanzó a la fama. Desde entonces su carrera de soubrette ha crecido hasta convertirse el lírica liviana. La voz de la Evans es bellísima y muy mobil, de gran agilidad y segurísimo filado y pianíssimo, la voz posee cuerpo y suena casi ideal como Pamina haciéndome recordar a la joven Dorothea Röschmann.

Pero hete aquí que la Evans no ha aprendido todavía a cantar legato y a mantener una línea de canto homogénea que de calidad vocal a sus arias, en especial a “Ach ich fül’s” un aria que se las trae a cualquier velocidad.

Pero si la debe enfocar a 132 la corchea (que es realmente rápido) deben concentrar el fraseo y medir las frases para que resulten con baches o a los saltitos o ráfagas. En cierta forma me hizo recordar a otra cantante que tenia ese defecto, Lucia Popp, quien por más que me gustara horrores, como soprano lírica mozartiana carecía de línea vocal. Eso le sucedió a la Evans todo el tiempo, pero la mayoría del público no prestó atención a algo que no sabe y los críticos, que deberían saberlo, lo ignoraron. Peor para ellos, para el público y para la escuela de canto que todos debemos vigilar.

Aunque se anunció que estaba con un resfrío (que abundan en Londres estos días), el tenor Will Hartmann cantó con excelente calidad tonal, es una voz bien puesta, casi dura, de agudo un poco apretado típico de los tenores mozartianos alemanes que tienden a sonar como Wunderlich sin nunca llegar a serlo. Tratar de imitarlo es un peligro y deberían reducir el caudal para asegurar la homgeneidad de color del registro.

Pero esto si que fue un reparo menor porque Hartmann supo decir en todo momento y repitió un excelente Tamino, en realidad mucho mejor que hace dos años.

De Simon Keenlyside sólo caben elogios, cómo ha cambiado la forma en que canta y actúa Papageno es increíble. Su caracterización comienza en forma teatral, como si estuviera declamando en un teatro de prosa, para luego hacer toda clase de piruetas y gestos chaplinescos arrojándose por todos lados, sea para atrapar a un pájaro o para saltar a la cama que contiene a su adorada Papagena. Vocalmente es siempre un cantante de excepción y más aún cuando se divierte en escena porque tiene un humor muy especial que se adecua al carácter de Papageno.

Su Papagena fué la joven Gail Pearson, muy buena de voz y muy atractiva figura.

Mc Vicar ve a Monostatos como una figura de pantomima, un hombre de peluca alta empolvada rodeado de niños que parecen monostatitos que se la pasan divirtiéndose imaginándose toda clase de maldades. Pero no hay nada realmente amenazante en este Monostatos, ni siquiera cuando se le acerca Pamina en el segundo acto. John Graham Hall con su figura alta y voz que se adapta a estos roles cumplió bien luciéndose mucho.

Me gustó una voz nueva en el elenco, la del bajo Kyle Ketelsen quien cantó el rol del Orador del Templo con una voz dúctil y clara, bien colocada y resonante y le auguro buena carrera.

En cambio el veterano Jan Hendrik Rootering decepcionó como Sarastro con poco volumen, nada de línea vocal y en los recitativos que es donde realmente se podría haber lucido, estuvo desganado, como si paseara por el escenario.

La finlandesa Anna-Kristiina Kaappola demostró increíble seguridad en su coloratura como la Reina de la Noche, especialmente a la velocidad casi vertiginosa que le impuso Mackerras, pero la Kaappola no flaqueó en ningún momento. He aquí una soprano de coloratura intensa pero no dramática y dura, una lírica liviana que llega a la estratósfera sin problemas. Excelente debut en esta casa de otra cantante finlandesa de categoría.

La producción de McVicar estuvo ensayada esta vez por Lee Blakeley quien le infundió mejor ritmo y menos exageraciones en los caracteres (excepto Monostatos en el cual eso es imposible). Me gustó mucho como los dos sacerdotes que guían a Tamino y Papageno en sus pruebas poseen mucho humor y reaccionan a los comentarios que estos hacen, en especial el que guarda a Papageno. Con los niños flotando en el espacio en una especie de auto volador con alas, mas las tres Damas apareciendo por todos lados en este Templo Masónico que sirve de escenario, he aquí una producción de concepto (porque lo tiene) que no ofende al público inglés porque le resulta familiar y por lo tanto aceptable. No siempre sucede que aceptan estas cosas pero cuando se las sirven en forma azucarada no piensan mas que en la dulzura pero se olvidan de la misoginia implícita.



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