The 2003 Royal Opera House recording of Die Zauberflöte has a terrific cast and it has Sir Colin Davis conducting. The production is by David McVicar and it’s one of those that make one wonder how he ever got a “bad boy” reputation. It’s perfectly straightforward though rather dark (emotionally and physically) and has a vaguely 18th century vibe. In places it seems a bit minimalist, as if the director couldn’t really be bothered with things like the Trials. The interview material rather suggests that McVicar was a bit overawed by doing Mozart with the great Sir Colin and tried very hard to match his rather old fashioned theatrical sensibilities.
So, it’s not as theatrically interesting as, say, Robert Carsen’s effort in Baden-Baden but it is very strongly cast and the singing is good to excellent. Dorothea Röschmann is the Pamina and she was probably at her peak for that role when this was done. It’s a lovely, lyrical rich toned performance. Maybe a bit on the mature sounding side but lovely to listen to. Franz-Josef is a proper bass Sarastro with tons of gravitas and all the low notes. The Königin is Diana Damrau. She’s appropriately fierce with pinpoint coloratura. It’s a traditional and very satisfying portrayal. Simon Keenleyside’s Papageno is very physical, beautifully sung and rather sad. Here is Everyman caught up in events way beyond his control or ken. Ailish Tynan’s cameo as Papagena is a very good foil. Tom Allen gets a look in as the Speaker. Luxury casting there. Even the Monostatos, Adrian Thompson, is a proper singer rather than a comic. If there’s a weak link it’s Will Hartmann’s Tamino. He’s not as sweet toned and stylish as, say, Pavol Breslik, and he sounds a bit strained towards the end. However he’s not bad at all and one wouldn’t, I think, complain if every Tamino was as “bad” as he is.
Sir Colin’s Mozart is very much a known quantity and played, as it is here, on modern instruments it sounds a touch old fashioned. Many people of course will prefer that but it is a different sound than one might often hear today. It’s not Klemperer though!
Sue Judd’s video direction also seems a bit old fashioned; very “made for TV”. This is not helped by the low light levels on stage so there’s lots we don’t see I suspect. Given the overall concept, or lack of one, that may not be a huge loss. The picture, on Blu-ray is very good and we get the luxury of unprocessed PCM 5.1 surround sound. There are a number of extras on the disk including interviews with Sir Colin, McVicar and his designer. The booklet has a track listing (there need to be more cues than there are) and an essay that will scarcely enlighten anyone but a Zauberflöte newbie. Subtitle options are English, French and Spanish.
This is a pretty good choice for someone who wants a modern recording of a traditiona(ish) production. For a brighter take there’s the 2006 Salzburg recording (which I need to re-evaluate) and the aforementioned Robert Carsen production which has ideas.