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A review of Die Zauberflöte (The magic flute)

A review of Die Zauberflöte (The magic flute)

A Level Music students Gigi D., Aurelia P-G. and Boya Z.

On the evening of Wednesday 20 September, a merry band of A Level Music students and their teachers watched a screening of Mozart's opera Die Zauberflöte at the Arts Picturehouse. The opera was being broadcast live, in real time from the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden.

Technically, Die Zauberflöte is a 'singspiel', which means it is a type of opera which is sung in German combining dialogue and singing (rather like the modern-day musical). It premiered in 1791, only a few months before Mozart died at the young age of 35, and it has become one of the most popular operas of all time. The libretto (script) was written by Mozart's friend, the impresario Emanuel Schikaneder, who also played the very first Papageno.

The plot is somewhat convoluted; in a nutshell, it concerns the quest of Prince Tamino who, with the help of Papageno, a bird catcher, has to rescue the beautiful Pamina, daughter of the Queen of the Night. With the help of a magic flute, Tamino and Pamina triumph and find love with each other.

Soprano Sabine Devielhe played the famously challenging role of the Queen of the Night. She was a quite young singer to perform such a big role and we felt that her voice was perhaps rather delicate and lacking in power in the lower register. Having watched footage of Diana Damrau performing this role in class, we had been expecting a more mature singer to perform this role but Devielhe’s technique was faultless and she proved her capability hitting the coloratura soprano notes (top Fs!) with great ease. Despite her youth, she was sensational. Her costume (and those of her assistants) was amazing.

Baritone Roderick Williams who played Papageno was phenomenal. His physicality and comic timing were brilliant and he lifted the production's energy to a whole new level. A lovely moment was the duet Bei Männern welche Liebe fühlen between Papageno and Pamina (played by Siobhan Stagg) which was beautifully and simply staged and sung.

The three trebles who played the child spirits were very impressive, and each voice part, when they sang in harmony, was well-balanced with the others; they gave excellent individual performances considering how young they were. The part of Prince Tamino (played by tenor Mauro Peter), was amazingly well acted, and Peter sang his arias with such expression and tenderness that he really endeared his character to the viewers. Bass Mika Kares who sang the role of Sarastro was remarkable. The role has a very low tessitura but he sang his low Fs effortlessly. One slightly odd character was Monostatos played by Peter Bronder. The role was acted very well, and you grew to really loathe the character, however with all the make-up and costume he bore an uncanny resemblance to Uncle Fester from The Addams Family which was a bit distracting!

The bird puppet which was used in the opening scene where the audience is first introduced to Pagageno was very effective and the puppeteer successfully blended into the background and maneuvered the animal in very naturalistic fashion. It stole many of the laughs, and the way Roderick Williams acted with the bird was extremely amusing.

If we were to find fault with this production, it would be with one of the costumes! We all felt that Papagena's costume was not at all in keeping with the rest of the production and the way she was revealed as Papagena was not true to the original story and, her simply removing her wig was very anti-climactic! The role was, however, very well sung by soprano Christina Gansch.

Having a female conductor (Julia Jones) was extremely refreshing, and Jones’ passion for Die Zauberflöte (and Mozart’s music in general), is inspiring for young musicians. The music in this production (performed by the orchestra of the Royal Opera House) was exceptionally well played and she directed the orchestra magnificently. The direction from Thomas Guthrie was a masterclass for all directors; he reveled in the comedy yet illuminated the touching moments. A good evening was had by all.