Yet it is, of course, Mozart’s glorious music that dominates throughout and enables the audience to forget all the misery of the weather and the real world outside the opera house.
We were treated to five performances of David McVicar’s splendid production of this opera before the end of December and it now returns for ten more after the New Year break. The story starts with the hero, Prince Tamino, being pursued by a giant snake, rescued by three maidens, then commissioned by the mysterious Queen of the Night to, rescue her daughter, Pamina, who has been kidnapped by the apparently evil and domineering Sarastro.
But it turns out that Sarastro is a good guy and it’s the Queen of the Night who is the baddie. In his quest, Tamino is aided by three boys who occasionally sail high above the stage offering good advice, and by the gifts of a magic flute and some magic bells which have the power to ward off evil.
Tamino is also helped, or more often hampered, by the company of the cowardly birdcatcher Papageno.
As I said, it’s bizarre, but David McVicar’s production, which dates back to 2003, adopts a very well-judged policy of playing the storyline very straight while increasing the comedy with some brilliantly funny touches to Papageno’s contributions.
These include the introduction of a superbly designed, puppeteer-operated bird for Papageno to pursue when we first meet him. I have seen this production several times and the bird-chasing sequences gets funnier every time.
On this occasion, the entire cast enters perfectly into the spirit of the production.
The two lovers, Tamino and Pamina, are splendidly sung by New Zealand-Tonga tenor Filipe Manu and Austrian-English soprano Anna Prohaska, who also acted their parts convincingly. Manu’s high tenor voice was particularly impressive, but the real stars of the show were Hungarian-Romanian baritone Gyula Orendt as Papageno and Tatarstan soprano Aigul Khismatulluna as the Queen of the Night.
Orendt’s comic timing was impeccable while Khismatullina’s high notes in her two arias were shatteringly effective. Mozart truly showed his brilliance in composing these show-stoppers and the manner in which she delivered them was glorious.
Despite the magnificence of the individual performances, however, the real winner in this production was the cohesion of the entire cast and the infectious sense of joy they conveyed. Even the Queen’s servants, the Three Ladies who rescued Tamino at the start, displayed a rare sense of unity, singing and acting as a distinctive musical trio rather than three bickering individuals.
An impeccable performance of a perfect production of a great opera – and it was all such fun. Highly recommended.
Tickets (and information about cast changes): roh.org.uk or 020 7304 4000 (various dates until 28 January)