The Royal Swedish Opera in Stockholm revives a 2012 production by Ole Anders Tandberg, based on surreal set designs and a mixture of reality, play, dreams and nightmares. The performance was in Swedish, which made it very immediate and interactive, with people in the audience talking back to the singers when they were talking on stage and reacting vividly to the story. The production encouraged the interaction with the audience: at the beginning, Tamino was sitting in the first row of the orchestra stalls, and the three ladies came to rescue him by walking through (and over) the people sitting on said first row. This made the performance very lively and it gave a taste of how much fun it must have been in the Freihaus-Theater auf der Wiede in Vienna in 1791.

Joel Annmo (Tamino) © Hans Nilsson
Joel Annmo (Tamino)
© Hans Nilsson

The Royal Swedish Orchestra was led by the Finnish conductor Eva Ollikainen, who frequently works with Nordic orchestras. Her reading of the score was impetuous, not always elegant and light, but constantly enthusiastic and with reasonable tempi (too often I hear Mozart played at ridiculous speed).

The singers were all Swedish, and, among them, my favorite was Joel Annmo as Tamino. His voice has a good center and very easy high notes, sustained by an intelligent use of breath. His interpretation was maybe not extremely imaginative, but the character came through. His voice has a natural elegance and dignity, which made his Tamino a very believable Prince. His delivery of "Dies Bildnis" was very enjoyable.

Pamina was Elisabeth Meyer, who I found somewhat less satisfactory. The voice is there, with good timbre, but she didn't seem to overcome the obstacles of the score in a convincing way. Her mezza voce was a bit strained, and she seemed to zoom through "Ach Ich Fühls" without enjoying the wonderful gems disseminated into it.

Jens Persson was a truly funny Papageno, who won over the audience with his acting, always staying clear of vulgar or exaggerated antics. His voice is not as powerful as one may wish, but it is very well set and with a good range of colors. He and Vivianne Holmberg, as Papagena, engaged in one the funniest duets I have ever seen, getting hot and heavy, taking their clothes off, until the conductor from the pit stopped the orchestra and yelled at them to cut it out! After the reprimand they finished the duet among the chuckles of the audience.

John Erik Elleby (Sarastro) © Hans Nilsson
John Erik Elleby (Sarastro)
© Hans Nilsson
John Erik Eleby, a veteran of the Royal Opera, was a very believable Sarastro, with dependable and commanding low notes and very beautiful phrasing.

The main issue with the cast was the Queen of the Night of Kerstin Avemo, who had a very bad cold and fought through her two incredibly hard arias, doing her best. In the first one, her voice was very weak, especially in the slow part at the beginning. The coloratura gave her courage, because she managed it reasonably, but she completely missed the high F in the end. I really didn't know how she could possibly handle the second aria, but she tackled it with nerves of steel and amazing bravery, and she did it quite well! Unfortunately, she still missed almost all the high Fs, except the last two, which miraculously came out, shining and brilliant, giving us a glimpse of what we had missed. The triplets (which are the hardest to vocalize, as Callas famously said) were wonderful. I really need to hear this singer when she is in better health.

Marie-Louise Granström, Sigrid Vetleseter Bøe, Monika Mannerström Skog (Three Ladies) © Hans Nilsson
Marie-Louise Granström, Sigrid Vetleseter Bøe, Monika Mannerström Skog (Three Ladies)
© Hans Nilsson

I enjoyed the three ladies very much: their singing was stylish and their acting engaging and appropriate. I had high hopes for the three child-spirits, given the great tradition of children singing in Sweden, and I was a bit disappointed. They held their own, but I expected more, maybe not so reasonably.

The rest of the cast, and the chorus, contributed to a very fun afternoon, for the delight of an audience which included a lot of engaged and interested children, a heart-warming sight.