Simon Keenlyside, Dorothea Röschmann, Will Hartmann, Diana Damrau, Franz-Josef Selig; ROH Chorus & Orchestra/Colin Davis; dir. David McVicar (ROH, 2003)
Opus Arte OA DVD 0885 D; Blu-ray: OABD7002D
This is Covent Garden’s latest Magic Flute production, filmed in January. It’s a mixed bag, hard to recommend as a total Flute experience over other DVDs already available. For one component part, though, it’s a must-have. Simon Keenlyside’s Papageno offers none of the vaudeville high jinks traditionally associated with the role: he brings to its comedy a Pierrot lunaire-like poetry, precisely achieved down to the smallest detail. This Papageno arouses both delight and poignant emotions, and his singing is wonderfully strong and true in style.
The illumination Keenlyside sheds on David McVicar’s production at every appearance is much needed. It’s otherwise a sepia-grey affair: not because it’s deprived of insights (the opera’s relationship with various contemporary philosophical movements is interestingly suggested) or striking stage pictures, but because it’s sorely lacking in the fun, colour, spectacle and sense of the wondrous that should leaven the seriousness. A youthfully high-spirited conductor might have counteracted the impression; in this latest of his many London Flute readings – it pains me to say this – Colin Davis compounds it, particularly in Act I, with his sedate tempi and total lack of Mozartian rhythmic spring.
In compensation, much good singing is on offer – good, too, that so many Germans are in principal roles, making much of Schikaneder’s libretto (it’s a pity the spoken dialogue was so much abridged). Diana Damrau’s sharply intelligent Queen of the Night, Dorothea Röschmann’s Pamina both fresh and ripe, Franz-Josef Selig’s powerful, unaffected Sarastro and Will Hartmann’s sturdy, ardent Tamino (underpraised by the London press) give much pleasure, as do Ladies, Priests and Thomas Allen’s marvellous Speaker cameo. Not, however, a Zauberflöte to make the spirits soar – except when Keenlyside is about.