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True, there's been the odd drawback : a varied reaction to the new Nicholas Maw Sophie's Choice (but at least the House is, to its great credit, commissioning new work -- Thomas Adès's new Tempest, in February 2004, will be a real highlight of the coming season); some doubts about the visuals in a recent Luisa Miller; a slightly tired old warhorse of a Tosca (but with Pavarotti on stupendous form despite personal bereavement -- his mother died in Italy during the run); and cancellation on financial grounds of Ligeti's Le Grand Macabre, due to follow Falstaff. But the brunt of the ROH's work has included a series of quite glorious productions.

Amongst the most recent, which include Ambroise Thomas's dramatically thinned but musically workable Hamlet (also staged not long ago by Opera North) -- early nineteenth century French repertoire, like Hérold, Auber and Meyerbeer, is surely ideal Covent Garden material -- have been a truly glorious Elektra and David McVicar's Magic Flute, whose capacious, picture-frame structures (not really done justice to in the subsequent British television transmission) are designed by John Macfarlane.

Franz-Josef Selig as Sarastro with the dark queen. Photo © 2003 Catherine Ashmore/Performing Arts Library
Franz-Josef Selig as Sarastro with the dark queen. Photo © 2003 Catherine Ashmore/Performing Arts Library

MacFarlane underlines McVicar's structured Enlightenment references by basing the visuals partly on Karl Friedrich Schinkel's memorable set design for the 1816 Berlin staging of the opera. He also worked with McVicar on De Vlaamse Opera's superb The Tales Hoffmann in Antwerp and Gent, Belgium : an inspired pairing which somehow manages -- the odd inconsistency or unclarity aside -- to embrace so much of this mind-opening Schikaneder ditty's magic and mystery.

Now into its second and in some instances, third cast, this is a Magic Flute staging to die for, and its return to the Royal Opera House this week (16, 19, 21, 23, 27 and 30 June, 1, 4 and 9 July 2003) is greatly to be welcomed.

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Copyright © 14 June 2003 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry, UK


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