The house was full for the opening night at the London Coliseum, and there were plenty of whoops for conductor Nicholas Collon as he made his ENO debut. This year marks the 25th anniversary of ENO's celebrated production of Mozart's The Magic Flute, and this revival – the fourteenth – will be the last. For this run, veteran backstage talent has been combined with a relatively young cast, featuring a number of ENO Harewood Artists in the principal roles.

The Magic Flute premièred in September 1791 at librettist Emmanuel Schickaneder's Freihaus-Theater in Vienna. Mozart himself conducted, whilst Schikaneder played the role of Papageno. It was to be one of Mozart's last public appearances before his untimely death just over two months later. Even before his death, the opera had been very well received; by November the following year, it had received its 100th performance.

Part fairytale, part comedy, The Magic Flute follows two single men, from different backgrounds, in their quest for love. Tamino, a prince, is saved from the clutches of a serpent by the Queen of the Night's servants, the Three Ladies. When Papageno, her bird-catcher, falsely tells Tamino it was he who killed the serpent, the Ladies padlock his mouth as punishment. Meanwhile, they show Tamino a picture of the Queen's daughter, Pamina, with whom he instantly falls in love. With Tamino's magic flute and Papageno's magic bells, they set off to rescue Pamina from the clutches of the priest Sarastro and his followers. The Three Spirits guide them through the various trials they must undertake; with their help, Tamino and Pamina are ultimately united, and although Papageno feels hopeless to the point of contemplating suicide, he eventually finds his promised Papagena.

The performance began with a slick and speedy overture; it was only after that that the curtains lifted on a minimal, but imposing set – in stark, effective contrast to the Three Ladies' and the Queen of the Night's vivid, iridescent blue dresses. A crack in the whitewashed stage wall opened and closed to let the singers on and off the stage, as well as to reveal more elaborate scenery. As the show went on, the scenery became increasingly detailed and colourful – in Sarastro's temple, the black wall of hieroglyphs, back-lit in red, was especially impressive. Needless to say, the costumes were no less noteworthy: Papageno's heavy-looking feather jacket added to the character's eccentricity, Pamina's pale pink, elegant dress highlighted her femininity, and the hieroglyph-detailed, monochrome garbs of Sarastro and his followers made for a visual feast when they were all on stage.

The singing was, on the whole, good. Elena Xanthoudakis' voice was sweet and pure in her role as Pamina, though it outmatched Shawn Mathey's Tamino, who, I felt, sounded strained on occasion. Soprano Kathryn Lewek (Queen of the Night) hit the top Fs in her second aria flawlessly both times, and her voice otherwise conveyed the drama of her role superbly. Her Three Ladies – Elizabeth Llewellyn, Catherine Young and Pamela Helen Stephen – blended well, though Stephen's voice was at times difficult to hear. The other trio, the Three Spirits (trebles Edward Birchinall, Alex Karlsson and Thomas Featherstonehaugh), were sublime, and their ensemble was spot-on. Robert Lloyd made an authoritative Sarastro with a deep and resonant voice, and Adrian Thompson's Monostatos combined fine singing with convincingly lecherous acting (in true pantomime style, he was booed at the end of the performance). The orchestra's ensemble was, under Collon's direction, tight, though on occasion it was out of kilter with the singers.

On the acting side, Papageno's affable image was brought to the fore by Duncan Rock's Australian accent, complete with a few “mate”s and “sheila”s here and there. The audience clearly took a shine to him: towards the end, as he threatened to kill himself on the count of three if nobody would love him, somebody shouted out “okay” (the said lady was given a wave by Rock when he came to take his bow). When it came to singing, his bass-baritone voice, although relatively young, was warm and sonorous. Rhian Lois' very Welsh Papagena might have been somewhat incongruous, but it only highlighted the comic nature of her character, who appeared on stage as a dotty old dear of a tea lady.

Although the opera carries some more serious underlying messages about clemency, freemasonry and Enlightenment ideals, it is better known for its humorous qualities and its pantomime-like cast of lovers, heroes and villains. This accessibility has made The Magic Flute one of the best-loved and most frequently performed operas in the repertoire. ENO's production, in particular, blends veteran stage designer Bob Crawley's elaborate sets, Nick Chelton's superb lighting, and some very clever visual effects in a production that perfectly reflects the magic of the story it tells. Ian Rutherford and James Bonas, the directors of this revival, have remained faithful to Hytner's original production, giving it a fitting send-off.

The Magic Flute - ENO, at London ColiseumJulia Savage reviews ENO/Hytner's 25th anniversary revival of Mozart's The Magic Flute4