<< -- 3 -- Roderic Dunnett VISIONS OF THE SUBLIME
McVicar probes, he homes in, he diverts, he teases. Macfarlane's opening gambit -- a clutch of mock-masonic mystery doors, prismic shapes and curious cones and rhomboids, is like the start of some kind of spiritual whodunnit.
The colours come and go in bold splashes -- blues and greys and yellows, reds for Franz Josef Selig's youthful but purposeful Sarastro (doubling with Alfred Reiter) and occasionally Adrian Thompson's unusually impertinent, dapper Monostatos -- no Caliban he, but a mincing escapee from some divertissement of Louis XIII and Lully a century earlier. Even an intrusive mobile phone (in tune, luckily) sounded merely like another of Papageno's musical contraptions.
Adrian Thompson as Monostatos with Pamina (Dorothea Röschmann). Photo © 2003 Catherine Ashmore/Performing Arts Library
In Schikaneder's day (or Henry Bishop's, in London) they went in for contraptions galore. The boa constrictor of a monster -- McVicar aping Richard Jones? -- is pure outrageous entertainment; so is the heron -- Papageno's Doppelganger, a kind of stork-on-a-stalk looking suspiciously like an escapee from Wallace and Gromit - which dances for the bird-catcher's opening Vogelsang (after he emerges like a mole from a hole, pure Wind-in-the-Willows) and acquires a cheeky will of its own.
This production, conducted initially by Sir Colin Davis, taken over by Covent Garden's admirable Head of Music, David Syrus, and overseen in the June-July series by Swiss conductor Philippe Jordan (who has his hands full with the celebrations of Graz's year as sole European City of Culture) never ceases to awe visually : Macfarlane's dominant sun and crescent moon (and all-knowing eye-in-the-sky) pound home the image of good versus bad, wise in opposition to foolish, sophisticated and loutish, enlightened against ill-versed, reason against passion, male and female, the initiate weighed against the profane.
Copyright © 14 June 2003
Roderic Dunnett, Coventry, UK