The Magic Flute (Die Zauberflote)


Mozart’s final opera is a joyful but perplexing masterpiece. It is full of glorious music, farcical episodes, hints of profundity and, above all Mozart is at the height of his powers.

As always, Glyndebourne has found  singers who are not household names but who soon may be. This production (first seen in 2019) is musically close to perfection and looks superb.  The set is a fantasy Viennese Hotel and the directors find – in the story of Tamino’s quest – jokes and parables everywhere, almost to saturation point, and sometimes to the detriment of those moments in the story where a little calm and poise is called for. But the end product is magical – and a fitting addition to the Festival’s long tradition of outstanding Mozart productions.

Pamina, the daughter of the Queen of the Night, has been abducted by the wizard Sarastro. The queen recruits Prince Tamino to rescue her and provides him with a magic flute and a companion, Papageno the bird-catcher. When they arrive at Sarastro’s palace, Tamino finds that not everything is quite as the queen has described it. He is eventually persuaded that, in the pursuit of wisdom and virtue, he should seek to become a follower of Sarastro and should undergo a series of trials. Papageno just wants someone to love and refuses to see why he needs to undertake dangerous tests to find his Papagena. After overcoming the trials, Tamino and Pamina together are acclaimed as the new leaders of Sarastro’s cult. In this production Sarastro is the head chef at the hotel and gastronomy appears to be the secret knowledge that his cult guards from outsiders.

As Sarastro, James Platt is  – despite a costume that makes him look like a character from Alice in Wonderland – the commanding presence that the opera needs. He has the resonant bass voice that the role begs for, and he has the power to fill the Glyndebourne auditorium. As Tamino and Papageno, Paul Appleby and Rodion Pogossov provided a comic double act – a trace of Laurel and Hardy, I thought – but this meant that, despite his ‘noble’ tenor voice, Appleby found precious little gravitas available for his search for wisdom and beauty. American soprano Lauren Snouffer was a fine Pamina. The performance was – perhaps because of a technical problem on the press night – slow to catch alight and it was Snouffer’s rejection of the advances of the evil Monostatos that introduced the musical and dramatic fire that we needed. And with her aria Ach ich fuhl’s she provided, for me, the evening’s highlight, though the audience reserved their loudest and longest applause for stand-in Alina Wunderlin delivering Der Holle Rache, the second of the Queen’s stellar arias. All the smaller roles including the three boys and the three ladies were of the highest quality – as were the choral moments. The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment under Constantin Trinks gives the all the light and shade that the score needs, and then some.

So why isn’t it worth five stars? What should be the complex double story  – of the search of Tamino for wisdom and beauty and Papageno for sex and booze and rock and roll – is lost in all the comic business and my word, there is a lot of that, some not quite as funny as the directors think. And the solution that Barbe & Doucet come up with to undercut the misogyny that lurks not far below the surface of the opera doesn’t ring true – having a few suffragettes with banners run across the set from time to time isn’t convincing.  And having having Pamina change from a dress into bloomers so she can join Tamino in the trials of fire and water makes a laborious point. Is the Queen of the Night the widow of the former owner of the hotel? The solution to the misogyny problem is, in my view, in Mozart’s ending – as Sarastro surrenders male leadership of his cult to a new leadership that honours male and female equally.

It is a wonderful opera and, despite my reservations about the story, this production is outstanding with superb music and one of the most creative visual presentations I have ever seen. It is worth every penny of the cost of the tickets  – not cheap, but for the price you get a great opera and a beautiful experience of the Sussex countryside.

Glyndebourne Opera 

Composer: Wolfgang Gottlieb Mozart

Librettist: Emanuel Schikaneder

Conductor: Constantin Trinks

Directors: Barbe & Doucet

Performers incl: Paul Appleby, Lauren Snouffer, Rodion Pogossov, James Platt.

Running time: 3 hrs (plus Glyndebourne’s long dinner interval)

Until 21 July

Photo credits:   © Glyndebourne Productions Ltd. Photo: Bill Knight 


The Magic Flute (Die Zauberflote)