It is really good, after 60 years of opera going, to go away after a performance of a standard classic feeling renewed and uplifted, and really enthusiastic still about the art form to which I have devoted my career. It does happen, happily more often that you might think. And certainly last night I had that strong feeling of joyful exuberance as I went out of the Coliseum after a totally absorbing and thoroughly enjoyable evening.
Now why? Well first of all the music. The Flute is a tricky piece, and is often a graveyard for conductors, especially young ones. The 29 year old Hungarian, Gergely Madaras, was something of a revelation for me. Last night I had much the same feeling as when I encountered the 26 year old Andris Nelsons for the first time in Riga in June 2005 - that here is someone of exceptional gifts of whom we will hear much more very soon. We will see what happens. He is with the ENO working alongside Ed Gardner and is clearly marked out by them as a rising star.
More about the music - the orchestra was brought right up to the stalls level - and this resulted in no stage/pit balance problems whatsoever. From the opening bars of the overture we were treated to splendid vivid playing and the orchestra was actually involved as equal partners with the singers - as near as it gets to the situation in the Vienna State Opera where the orchestra, a rather good little one called the Vienna Philharmonic, participates in a similar way reacting in their music making with their colleagues on the stage. And an unusual and brilliant final stroke was the orchestra rising to their feet for the final bars of the Act 2 finale. Wonderful!!
Simon McBurney is a genius man of theatre. And clearly, like his brother Gerard, also a remarkable man of music. His team of Jean Kalman (Lighting design of great magic) and Michael Levine (Set) bring their own extraordinary talents to this production which is truly one of the most satisfying evenings I have spent in the opera house for a long while.
Tamino was sweetly sung by that consummate musician Ben Johnson, and Papageno was given a very specific take and splendidly dispatched by rising star Roland Wood - one of our Baden-Baden choristers in 1998! Of the rest of the excellent cast I particularly enjoyed Steven Page's Sprecher, James Cresswell's Sarastro (he had also been an excellent Rocco earlier this season), and Mary Bevan's delicious Papagena. This is the young woman who almost stole the show as Barbarina (!) in ENO's Figaro last season.
There is so much more that can be said about this - but I leave that to the press. We have an extraordinarily high level of music criticism in London. It has always been so, going back to Bernard Shaw!
But don't miss this thing. Be prepared to go a long way to see it. If you miss it in London then it will be in Aix-en-Provence next summer.