Opera: The Magic Flute

Why Sir Colin's conducting is out of sight

By Stephen Pollard, February 4, 2011

Royal Opera House

Peter Hoare as the Moorish slave Monostatos and the world-class Kate Royal as Pamina in Mozart’s opera

Peter Hoare as the Moorish slave Monostatos and the world-class Kate Royal as Pamina in Mozart’s opera

There are few more soul-destroying moments in a theatre than when, moments before the curtain rises, the empty seat in front of you, with its uninterrupted view of the stage, is suddenly empty no more. And it is always the tallest man in the building who comes in last and plonks himself in front of you.

Well, it happens to critics, too. As I was settling into my seat, waiting for Sir Colin Davis to walk into the pit and raise his arms, what must have been not the tallest man, not the two tallest men, but the three tallest men who have ever been seen sat down in the row in front of me.

Not only were they preposterously tall, they all seemed to have attention deficit disorder, shuffling, fidgeting and chatting at random moments throughout the night. I could bore for Britain on how manners in the theatre (and cinema and concert hall) have deteriorated. Another time...

So, much as I would love to be able to tell you about the acting and the look of this third revival of David McVicar's revival of Die Zauberflöte, I cannot, because I could never see more than a quarter of the stage.

All I could do was listen. Which, given what I was listening to, was not such a hardship. There really are worse ways to spend an evening than hearing Sir Colin conduct Mozart.

He is a marvel. Most conductors slow down with age - their tempi become more ponderous and their music making more plodding. Sir Colin, at 83, seems to have speeded up. The overture rockets along, not in haste but with purpose, and there is a discernible lilt to every bar throughout the night. No one alive is a more natural Mozartian than Sir Colin. In any other nation we would revere him, but here we seem simply to regard him as part of the musical furniture.

The cast is mixed. Kate Royal as Pamina is now a world-class artist, and dominates the evening. Her duet with Christopher Maltman's Papageno is heart-stoppingly beautiful. And Maltman is an intelligent singer with a velvet tone. But he does not quite manage Papageno's idiocy: he's more of a nebuch. Joseph Kaiser is a serviceable Tamino, but there is little warmth in his voice, and Jessica Pratt's Queen of the Night gets better as the evening goes on - her first aria was marred by some harsh sounds.

What I could see of it looked good, so I would unhesitatingly recommend this chance to hear Sir Colin in his element and - if you're lucky - see Kate Royal's glorious Pamina.

(Tel: 020 7304 4000)

Last updated: 11:02am, February 4 2011