Stop this nonsense: Die Zauberflöte at the ROH
Royal Opera House
Stalls N4, £30
22 September 2021
Why, oh why, did I go to this performance of the Royal Opera’s Die Zauberflöte? Well, because my friend had a ticket offer and had never seen it before, and because I liked Daniel Behle when I saw him in Così fan tutte. Note to self: these are not good enough reasons for seeing a production I have already seen a hundred times of an opera that even at the best of times gives me mixed feelings.
These are not the best of times and the long enforced break from live opera casts Zauberflöte in an unflattering light. Yes, a lot of the music is beautiful. Yes, Papageno is charming. Yes, the Queen of the Night’s arias are thrilling, and yes, even if I’m the only one I love the weird chorale of the Armed Men. But no, this is a misogynistic, nonsensical, overlong and frankly tiresome opera, that I will not see again unless serious intervention is made to rescue its beauty from its historic hatred.
David McVicar’s 2002 production tries, a little, I guess, in its mute allusions to Sarastro’s male-only cabal, and the little girl left out of the science lessons. But an opera that repeatedly describes women as evil and inferior needs more than such subtle touches to make it palatable now. There’s a long way to go but #MeToo has moved us on significantly and what was acceptable in 2002 is not always acceptable now. Not that you would know it sitting in the stalls at the Royal Opera House, where deplorable statements on women’s vileness are met with indulgent chuckles. The chucklers would no doubt argue that I’m taking things too seriously; but I’ll counter that they need to get with the times.
The misogyny is the most upsetting thing but the dreary inconsequentiality of the second act makes things worse. Papageno shouldn’t talk; he does; it’s fine. Pamina’s going to kill herself: she doesn’t; it’s fine. The Queen of the Night and Monostatos are going to mount a rebellion; they’re somehow foiled; it’s fine. It doesn’t make any sense, it doesn’t have any tension, and it just isn’t entertaining. People think of Zaberflöte as an opera that sends you away walking on air, but it left me fuming, a Charlie Brown dark scribble rising over my head.
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