Glyndebourne, East Sussex Until August 24
The founders of Glyndebourne must be spinning in their graves at this absurdly staged, indifferently performed Magic Flute. When, 85 years ago, John Christie and his opera-singer wife, Audrey Mildmay, turned their country pile into an opera house, they had a massive piece of luck.
Hitler’s antics made available to them one of Germany’s finest conductors, Fritz Busch, and Carl Ebert, a consummate man of the theatre.
Between them they recreated Mozart for a modern audience, putting him back on the map as one of opera’s real greats. And they established a Glyndebourne Mozart tradition that continued for more than half a century, into the Eighties, when the theatrical genius of Sir Peter Hall was combined with the sophisticated conducting of Bernard Haitink.
Caroline Wettergreen’s squally Queen of the Night shows off by singing the end of her first aria an octave higher than Mozart wrote. Pure self-indulgence
With this Flute, Glyndebourne betrays this history. Musically, apart from Brindley Sherratt’s imposing Sarastro, it’s truly second-rate.
David Portillo offers a vocally negligible Tamino, Sofia Fomina an unconvincing Pamina, and Björn Bürger an enthusiastic but unfunny Papageno. Caroline Wettergreen’s squally Queen of the Night shows off by singing the end of her first aria an octave higher than Mozart wrote.
Pure self-indulgence, which conductor Ryan Wigglesworth should have stopped. But his funereal tempi throughout shows he’s no Mozartian.
With much more dialogue than usual, this show drags appallingly, thanks to the Canadian team Barbe & Doucet, hailed in the programme as ‘Opera’s dynamic duo’. I’ve never heard of them.
IT’S A FACT
Mozart was devoted to his pet starling, which he bought after he heard the bird singing his Piano Concerto No 17 in a Vienna shop.
The programme makes it sound as though they are opera’s answer to Morecambe And Wise. But they have never done anything at a major international opera house. This is their biggest gig so far, and they make a mess of it, often as coarse as Little And Large, and invariably as camp as Hinge And Bracket.
Mozart may have been writing for a music hall but there is an underpinning of seriousness in the Flute. It’s a hymn of praise to the Age Of Enlightenment, as represented by Sarastro and his followers.
Not here, where Sarastro is the head chef of a 1900 grand hotel, complete with a toque that lights up. Childish.
The Queen of the Night is the hotel’s owner. She could have saved us a witless evening by sacking Sarastro at the start. Or rather giving him the chop, which is what his chefs do to Papageno’s babies.
Yet another coarse-grained misjudgment in a show full of them.
It’s a ragtag piece of nonsense that must have cost a fortune to stage, yet offers discriminating Mozart-lovers next to nothing.
ALSO WORTH SEEING
Opera Holland Park, London Until Friday
What a joy to hear this L’Arlesiana; impeccably cast, well sung, conducted with real authority by Dane Lam and sympathetically directed by Oliver Platt.
This is a classic verismo opera; real life in the raw. Federico is obsessed with a woman from Arles (who never appears). He subsequently discovers she has succumbed to the rough charms of Metifio.
Federico’s overpowering mother Rosa Mamai (a compelling Yvonne Howard) tries to prevent her son’s descent into madness. But even a pretty, albeit conventional fiancee, Vivetta, sung with real conviction by Fflur Wyn, cannot prevent him from shooting himself.
Even a pretty, albeit conventional fiancee, Vivetta, sung with real conviction by Fflur Wyn, cannot prevent Federico (a really effective Samuel Sakker) from shooting himself
Samuel Sakker is a really effective Federico, making a fine fist of the opera’s big aria, E La Solita Storia (Federico’s Lament), which turned the first Federico, a guy called Caruso, into a star.
The drama is unflinchingly presented by Platt. He cleverly ensures in the fight between Federico and Metifio that Federico’s rage is not only about frustrated love but also his anger that the girl from Arles could possibly prefer Metifio to him.
Francesco Cilea’s opera isn’t in the least a slushy piece. As my colleague George Hall has written: ‘Few operas of the romantic period present such a negative image of romantic love.’
L’Arlesiana was a success for Cilea, as was Adriana Lecouvreur, five years later. But the critics got to him, and though he lived to be 84, he never wrote another opera after he was 40. On this evidence, a real shame.
Yet another memorable evening from director of opera James Clutton and general director Michael Volpe, who this summer marks 30 years at Holland Park. Here’s to many more.