tue 21/05/2024

Prom 51: Die Zauberflöte, Glyndebourne review - smooth classic without depth | reviews, news & interviews

Prom 51: Die Zauberflöte, Glyndebourne review - smooth classic without depth

Prom 51: Die Zauberflöte, Glyndebourne review - smooth classic without depth

Imported gags work when comedy's intended but get in the way of seriously good singing

In the temple-kitchen of masterchef Sarastro (Brindley Sherratt)All images BBC/Chris Christodoulou

Can we go back to an older Glyndebourne-at-the-Proms vintage, where the chosen production was merely sketched out with variations suited to the venue, and performed in whatever evening dress might be appropriate?

Certainly one wishes that director-designer duo André Barbe and Renaud Doucet’s ingenious wardrobe for their reductive Edwardian-hotel, chefs-and-chambermaids Magic Flute could have been left down in Sussex. This would have given the serious stretches of the piece the simple gravity and musical focus Mozart deserves when he goes deep.

Unfortunately this was also an exposure of what Ryan Wigglesworth was up to with the Orchestra of the Age of Englightenment, and while his interpretation had many virtues, vivid projection of dramatic situations was not among them. Elegant lines smoothly blossomed, but the bristling vivacity so essential for pace rarely surfaced. There was no uplift - least of all among the violins, dim and dry from where I was sitting (not so for Ádám Fischer the other week at the Proms). The Albert Hall needn't be a black hole for period-instrument Mozart: it's a matter of energising, and there seemed to be precious little of that from the players, with honourable exceptions from over-dominant horns and Lisa Beznosiuk's nicely ornamented later flute solos. Papageno/Papagena duet at the PromsThis was velvety but neutral night to The Other (Mark) Wigglesworth’s bright, hyper-wakeful day in the richly human revival of Complicite’s ENO production. How much interplay there had been at the Coliseum between stage and orchestra. You’d have expected a bit of that to be introduced by Donna Stirrup in her semi-staging of Barbe and Doucet, given that the orchestra shared the platform with the singers, but there wasn’t, and for Papageno it was an opportunity missed. In the lithe form of Björn Bürger, more apt to play Don Giovanni, the birdcatcher’s solos were all handsomely sung, and the “Pa-pa-pa”s of his finale duet with his long-witheld mate (Alison Rose) have surely never sounded crisper. But in dialogue the comedy fell flat – perhaps blame the staging for the cliched handling of Papagena as old woman – leaving the laughs to cover much of the music. Some good gags, all the same: the various manifestations of the magic bells, the papababies tumbling out of the oven (good work from the puppeteers, pictured above with Bürger and Rose, though with some of their business shorn the automata sequence during the trials didn't make sense). Queen of the Night's first aria in Proms FluteAnd gags are fine in the opera’s first half-hour, with genuine thrills from Caroline Wettergreen's Queen of the Night (pictured above with the Three Ladies) as a posturing Madame Upstairs: incandescence filling the hall, the top F full and brilliant, not just pipped out. But where were the dramatic shades as Tamino heads towards those “questions at the outermost limit of life”, as Ingmar Bergman put it, for the Prince’s dark night of the soul? A jolly soul in plus-fours and tweeds (pictured below with the Three Boys) interrogating a funny-haired sommelier (the Speaker, Michael Kraus) isn’t going to cut the mustard, and David Portillo’s light, well-projected, fast-vibratoed tenor needed to give way to a touch of the heroic here. Tamino and the Three Boys in Proms FlutePerfectly poised, on the other hand, in the face of an unflattering costume and unrelentingly daft situations – the Trials of Fire and Water as bakeoff competition with Pamina striking the long-overdue blow for suffrage and the partner reduced to champion dishwasher – was Sofia Fomina as Pamina. This is where you really wished for a simple evening dress and a stage shared only with the orchestra, not men in silly hats and a handful of Glyndebourne props. Musically, the quartet before the trials was certainly a high point, with a big line coming through from tenor Thomas Atkins – definitely a lyric going on Helden – I’d never noticed before. The giant Armed-Men puppets didn't survive the journey to Kensington, so the focus really was on the score for once.Curtain call for Proms Magic FluteWhile Atkins was well-matched with fellow priest Martin Snell, the blending of the Three Ladies seemed odd: no cream on the cake, and a very distinctive contralto (Katharina Magiera) cutting through – though it was startling to hear an extra bit of music with cadenza in their first trio: where did that come from? Brindley Sherratt took the line down splendidly in his noble solos and just about carried off the dignity in his cartoon masterchef costume; the chorus with their light-up hats brought gravitas where there clearly is none in Barbe and Doucet’s production, and the Three (Bell)Boys - credits due to Daniel Todd, Simeon Wren and Felix Barry-Casademunt - projected surprisingly well in the Albert Hall given the absence of amplification (the dialogue was refreshingly free from it too, and hurrah for supertitling at the Proms, a rare visitor). Total togetherness with Wigglesworth and the orchestra, though, ultimately didn’t quite make amends for Flute Lite. It's not just a comedy.

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