This was a double-headed opera weekend. Going to Covent Garden always feels like a privilege – I love the richness and formality of the auditorium, but equally it’s impossible not to feel uplifted by the Coliseum with its prancing horses and Roman detailing. It always amuses me to think it was first built by Sir Oswald Stoll, as a circus.

At the Coliseum, The Mikado is on its fifteenth revival outing, here at Covent Garden David McVicar’s The Magic Flute comes round for the seventh time.  Both are delightful in their own way, but the Flute has more darkness and depth.

It’s all about Enlightenment – the costumes and wigs come from the 18th century ‘age’ and the characters are all seeking their own.   A prince and a bird-catcher set out to rescue a princess, while a dramatic queen tussles with a mysterious priest for control of the world.  For me, it can be tough to follow the story closely – German isn’t one of my languages and you can get a stiff neck reading the surtitles from the stalls. Best to allow the wonderful music to wash over you, and enjoy the fantasy world of starry messengers and dark lords played out on John Macfarlane’s monolithic sets and Paule Constable’s romantic chiaroscuro lighting.

Although this run sees the 350th performance of McVicar’s production, it’s an almost entirely new cast, and there are some outstanding voices.

The ‘three ladies’ are engaging and beautifully blended but serve only as an opener for you to be blown away by their ice maiden boss, the stunning Finnish soprano Tuuli Takala who won enthusiastic ovations for her Queen of the Night arias.

Young British tenor Benjamin Hulett brings power and richness to the princely Tamino, his voice absolutely defining the character as heroic. As the birdcatcher Papageno, Vito Priante has fun with the puppetry goose-on-wheels but takes time to warm vocally, although his delight at finding love with Yaritza Veliz’s Papagena is infectious.

It’s a generous fusion of the gravitas of Mozart’s story, not shrinking from the Masonic challenges the characters face in the second half, but leavened with some strong comic turns, notably from the ‘three magical boys’ who make their first appearance in a splendidly Heath Robinson-ish flying machine.

At the end, when all the strands are neatly tied, the magical darkness gives way to the golden dawn of an enormous, symbolic, warming sun.

A classy night out. 


until November 27