“Beware the duplicity of women...” In a curious programme interview, director-designers André Barbe and Renaud Doucet identify lines like this as the reason they’ve shunned previous invitations to stage Die Zauberflöte. Rather than do what practically every other contemporary director does, to tread lightly over the libretto’s indelicacies, Doucet claims they needed to address them head-on. It’s all about being truthful to the music and the text, he says. Why, then, does the end result equivocate so much? Monostatos becomes a chimney-sweep so that the black villain references can stay; misogynistic Templars are converted by suffragettes in sashes and banners but no voice (because Mozart did not provide one). Yet still we’re invited to laugh at throwaway remarks society now rightly deems sexist. Glyndebourne’s new Magic Flute wants to have its cake and eat it.

Martin Snell, David Portillo, Björn Bürger, Thomas Atkins and choir © Glyndebourne Productions Ltd. | Bill Cooper
Martin Snell, David Portillo, Björn Bürger, Thomas Atkins and choir
© Glyndebourne Productions Ltd. | Bill Cooper

All that aside, this is a jolly show that boasts a welter of eye candy thanks to Barbe’s pen-and-ink aesthetic and Patrick Martel’s endlessly inventive puppetry. He and Doucet, the directing half of the French-Canadian team, have set the opera in a grand fin de siècle hotel, with the Queen of the Night as Proprietor and Sarastro as Head Chef. Inevitably, these job descriptions fall away as the plot unfolds and it becomes the Flute as we know it, albeit with Priests in aprons (Masonic references abound and can be safely ignored) and illuminated toques. Exquisite trompe-l’oeil drop-curtains whisk us from foyer to kitchen to cellar to conservatory to every imaginable corner of a grand Parisian hotel, and it’s all great fun. I’ve seen more theatrically resourceful stagings of Mozart’s late comedy but seldom one that’s as easy on the eye. Ideal entertainment for a fizz-filled summer night.

Caroline Wettergreen (Queen of the Night) © Glyndebourne Productions Ltd. | Bill Cooper
Caroline Wettergreen (Queen of the Night)
© Glyndebourne Productions Ltd. | Bill Cooper

The iron-strong cast makes for agreeable company, and it’s graced by another stratospheric outing for Caroline Wettergreen’s helium-fuelled Queen of the Night. As at the Royal Opera House, the Norwegian soprano delivers her moments with oompf, wow and pinpoint accuracy, and at the opening performance she even leapt up a cheeky octave at the end of “Zum Leiden bin ich auserkoren”.

David Portillo (Tamino) and Sofia Fomina (Pamina) © Glyndebourne Productions Ltd. | Bill Cooper
David Portillo (Tamino) and Sofia Fomina (Pamina)
© Glyndebourne Productions Ltd. | Bill Cooper

Sofia Fomina and David Portillo are vocally secure and attractive as Pamina and Tamino, while Brindley Sherratt is his usual burnished self as Sarastro. But not for the first time at this address, it is baritone Björn Bürger who steals the show from under everybody else’s noses by combining a mellifluous baritone with a puppy-dog demeanour for Papageno and complete mastery of his sight gags.

Björn Bürger (Papageno) and Sofia Fomina (Pamina) © Glyndebourne Productions Ltd. | Bill Cooper
Björn Bürger (Papageno) and Sofia Fomina (Pamina)
© Glyndebourne Productions Ltd. | Bill Cooper

Ryan Wigglesworth and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment deliver a happy account based on vibrant, historically informed practices and moderate to slow tempo choices that only occasionally threaten to grind to a halt. The Glyndebourne Chorus contribute their modest helpings very well, and secondary roles are all expertly taken. Jörg Schneider is a strangely jaunty Monostatos, Doolittle-style; Michael Kraus an urbane if under-characterised Speaker. The three Ladies (Esther Dierkes, Marta Fontanals-Simmons and Katharina Magiera) and the three bellhop Boys (Daniel Todd, Simeon Wren and Felix Barry-Casademunt of Trinity Boys Choir) are all splendid.

Sofia Fomina, Martin Snell, Brindley Sherratt, Michael Kraus, Thomas Atkins and choir © Glyndebourne Productions Ltd. | Bill Cooper
Sofia Fomina, Martin Snell, Brindley Sherratt, Michael Kraus, Thomas Atkins and choir
© Glyndebourne Productions Ltd. | Bill Cooper

Some visual moments enchant while others fall flat. Best of the former is the puppeteers’ ingenious creation of Papageno’s menagerie from pillows and eiderdowns; among the latter a laboured spot of business involving a pretentious sommelier and a bottle of “Flûte enchantée grand cru”. Overall, though, it works. A dumb waiter opens its doors to speak; a Green Man of kitchen vegetables rises up and echoes it; the Two Armoured Men, voiced by Thomas Atkins and Martin Snell, are gigantic showstoppers cast from a jumble of domestic ironware. Barbe and Doucet may have set out with high minded views on Mozart’s low comedy; in the end they went with the flow.

***11