on June 11, 2004
In this DVD's special feature, renowned Mozart interpreter Sir Colin Davis states (or quotes another musician) that, "Mozart is simply God." He compares this composer's Singspiel in two acts to Shakespeare's valedictory work, "The Tempest," and relates that one of Mozart's characters actually quotes Prospero. This occurs when Sarastro is speaking of the Queen of the Night: "This thing of darkness I / Acknowledge mine" (5.1.275-76). How very appropriate since Mozart's librettist Schikaneder was among other things a Shakespearean actor. Mozart himself was said to be working on sketches for an operatic version of "The Tempest" when he died.
This production was filmed at the Royal Opera House, Convent Garden in January, 2003 and one of the most pleasing aspects of it is that the producer has achieved unity of music, text, and staging. As the conductor says, "you can be an old man like me or a little girl of seven..." and the 'Flute' will still enfold you in its trifold magic.
The designer, John Macfarlane chose an unusually dark Baroque setting--"When will this endless night be over?"--but there are flashes of brilliance, some of them paying homage to Ingmar Bergman's version of this opera, e.g. the scene in the Speaker of the Temple's study, the trials by water and fire, Pamina's attempted suicide, and Sarastro's final exit with the flute (although this Sarastro doesn't toss it gleefully into the air).
One of the most extraordinary aspects of this production is its Papageno. Simon Keenlyside is a nervy, cynical birdcatcher. He is not simple, so much as burned-out. This interpretation makes his attempted suicide seem very much in character, but I had trouble believing that he would live happily ever after with Ailish Tynan's brassy Papagena.
The Austrian bass Franz-Josef Selig is a portly, paternal Sarastro. The low Fs of "O Isis und Osiris" are no challenge to his dark voice, but he is less successful with the second great bass aria, "In diesen heilgen Hallen" which sounds a bit shouted and effortful. His speaking voice resonates with deep, mellow calm, and I'd almost rather hear him talk than sing.
The Queen of the Night, Diana Damrau will cause the hair on the back of your neck to rise up with her unearthly arias. She was voted "Opernwelt's" Young Singer of the Year in 1999 and I hope to hear more of her. She commanded the stage and the Night, as well as every difficult passage that Mozart wrote for her.
Will Hartmann as Tamino is a little pinched at top, but suitably noble. He is an excellent, believable prince. Dorothea Röschmann is his sturdily-sung Pamina. Usually her suicide attempt is more believable than Papageno's, but not in this production. She is more of a Ceres than a frightened, abducted Persephone.
Adrian Thomson's Monostatos and his cohorts wore period fright-perukes and lots of lipstick. Perfect! Their costumes and cavorting reminded me of the 'minuet scene' in "Fearless Vampire Killers."
Thomas Allen is a special treat as the Speaker of the Temple, although the gorgeous orrery almost steals the scene in his study.
Sir Colin's comment on the meaning of "Die Zauberflöte," "The struggle to attain perfection is where all value lies" also applies to productions of this opera. That is why I think you should experience both this conductor's version, as well as Ingmar Bergman's 1975 film.
I recently attended the most enchanting of 'Flutes' with sets designed by Maurice Sendak, and nothing will ever supercede Ingmar Bergman's production in my heart, but Sir Colin's 'Flute' is a close third.
on December 23, 2003
There is no disagreement with any of the reviewers here - this performance blew me away and had me completely enthralled. I bought this recording for simon keenlyside and colin davis, but all the main characters are fantastic.
To start with the queen of the night, diana damrau has to be heard and SEEN to be believed..she sings and acts her heart out - this is the most exciting portrayal of the queen I have ever witnessed. Will Hartmann and Dorothea Roschmann are excellent as tamino and pamina, and simon keenlyside is as brilliant and touching as his review in opera news claims.
The sets and costumes are marvelously tasteful, the conducting is magnificent, and the performances have you laughing one moment, excited the next, and in delicate ecstacy after that. I cannot count the number of times this DVD had me jumping off my couch and yelling bravo! bravAA! to my TV screen. How often does something this perfect come by? GET IT NOW!!!!
on April 14, 2004
Having been moderately fond of Colin Davis old Phillips recording of die Zauberflote, and seeing a brilliant concert performance which he conducted of Idomeneo in London a few years ago, I thought it finally time to buy a DVD flute with subtitles that I could introduce to friends who are new to opera. A final illustrious interpretation for the 80 year old conducter I hoped.
Alas, I felt this whole production in the poor to mediocre range, with only a few really shining moments.
Queen of the Night--One of the best ever. Not just vocal fireworks, but brilliantly felt and acted as well. She does all kinds of interesting things with the low notes that really communicate, where most singers just dutifully purr along.
Papageno--Keenlyside has a beautifully solid pure baritone. No wobble. He also is very athletic. He portrays Papageno in a sort of depressed, dumpy way, as opposed to the usual manic comic presence. I prefer manic myself, but kudos for a unique and workable interpretation. Unfortunately he does not harmonize well in ensembles, which is very dissapointing.
Pamina--Roschmann has a beautiful and powerful voice. "Ach ich fuhls" is particularly moving. Unfortunately, she does not harmonize well either. In ensembles one gets the feeling she is belting out alone and not really listening to the other singers. Its a shame since alot of Pamina's music is in ensembles. in particular her duets with Papageno come off very flat. 2 beautiful voices and a splendid orchestra, but where is the music of the spheres?
Tamino--Fair acting and presence, but I and my friend both found his voice to have an annoying nasal stridency. Heroic, yes. Princely, no. Weak in ensembles again--but this is a great weakness of the production, hard to know who to fault.
Sarastro--Oddly creepy, which was the designers intention perhaps. Impressive booming voice, but very unmusical we thought. His arias come off particularly bad.
Three Ladies--Very good! So refreshing to hear some decent ensemble singing in this production.
Boys--Hate to be cruel, but...weak. In ensembles with Pamina and Tamino they sounded like mice while the adults responded with giant lion roars. Very odd. Did not help they were dressed like orphans from Oliver Twist. Nothing magical in this production, as three boys who are prescients should be.
Speaker--Good, solid Thomas Allen.
Choir--Disappointing. Never really achieved a moving luminosity. Just compare the glorius "Heil sei euch geweihten" on Christie's Erato CD recording(with a French choir no less!) with this flat perfunctory delivery. It made me cry for the wrong reasons.
Conducting--Perfunctory. Even more workaday than his Phillips CD recording which I thought was pretty poor. Its not bad mind you, all the notes are there with fidelity, and there is no goofy romanticism, but the music only rarely glows, the rythyms hardly ever spring. There seems a poor sense of listening between singers and orchestra which, as I mentioned, is particularly noticable in Mozart's marvelous ensembles which just do not harmonize in this production.
Production--Some endearing moments, but overall we found it more strange than moving. It is quite simple in a way, with few grand sets, and even seems to want to hark back to 18th century Vienna burgtheater. The art design has a colourful, circus like quality to it. Very subjective, but I felt it just did not really arise from the music. Macabre and strange are not adjectives that come to mind when thinking of Mozart or Masonic ritual. Monostatos is politically corrected.
Video and Audio quality--I am no videophile, but we both thought these were superb. Great subtitles and an unintrusive camera. In contrast, the Haitink/Glyndebourne Figaro, for example, while being far superior musically to this production, suffers from very poor subtitles that makes it a poor choice for introducing it to new listeners, which DVD operas are great for.
There certainly are much worse Zauberflote, and the excellent production values and subtitles could make this a good choice for introducing the opera to non german speakers, but overall IMO this is a disappointing release.
on January 16, 2004
This production of Mozart's masterpiece is a very refreshing and innovative concept. Veteran British conductor Sir Colin Davis leads his orchestra in a live performance at London's celebrated Covent Garden. In my personal opinion, this interpretation of The Magic Flute ranks alongside the high-quality Bergman opera film which was made in Stockholm and sung in Danish the 70's. This production seems to be either 80's or 90's. The sets and costumes were designed to look 18th century (the time of Mozart) and many of the Enlightenment/Freemason iconography is conveniently used. Sarastro (Selig)looks like a majestic Benjamin Franklin, the Temple looks like a Masonic Temple, there are models of the solar system and hot-air balloons, not to mention the costumes and wigs appear authentic to the period this opera was first composed. Anyhow, it's obvious there are limits to the use of creativity in this production (probably due to a low budget)- the Serpent that persues Tamino as the opera opens is nothing more than a large puppet visably operated by people. This would be like the discovery of the Wizard Of Oz' fake illusion-machine at the end of The Wizard of Oz. Disappointing also is the finale in which the Queen of the Night is not killed or visably destroyed (in other versions she melts with the sun's rays or simply drops dead) but in this production she simply exits stage left.
There is very little lighting and much of the opera is pitched against Rembrandt-like darkness. Light is cast only on the focus of certain scenes- the pillars of the Temple, the bed Pamina is sleeping in, etc. A fog machine is used to make the Three Ladies mysteriously appear. The Queen of the Night is welcomed with a prop of a mooon and stars. Even like this, the opera is enjoyable. It is avant-garde and theatrical. The singers are in good shape, even the nearly retired bass Richard Van Allan. Dorothea Roschmann performs a beautifully mature Pamina, passive but strong when necessary (remember she says to Tamino during the Trial of Fire and Water that SHE will lead the way while he plays his magic flute) and she is glorified along with him at the end of the ordeal. Diana Damrau sings a terric Queen of the Night. Her acting combines with her singing so blissfully that she is one of the rare interpreters of the role that don't look bad playing the Queen. Other than Damrau, Edda Moser does a superior job. Damrau's coloratura is dead-on in the high F's, and her villainous scheming and vindictive persona is almost cartoonish what with her costume and make up. Tamino (tenor Hartmann) does a good job with what he has- as far as lyric German singing and the little acting he has to do as the heroic and romantic lead. This DVD comes with commentary by Sir Colin Davis as he talks about The Magic Flute and its significance in music as well as a behind-the-scenes feature on the making of this production. This opera is visually striking. Get it if you are a fan of The Magic Flute and if you want to look at the little visual displays that make this a delightful rendition. Examples I can give are the funny moments that include Papageno-especially his final scene in which he meets Papagena, who comes to him looking like a rather fat Madonna or Cindy Lauper on a rotating bed. Loads of fun.
on October 7, 2003
I am in complete agreement with the previous reviewer - this production is a marvel. All things considered, this is perhaps the finest and most stylish realization of Zauberflote I've ever seen, and indeed one of the best productions of any opera that I've experienced, either on stage or DVD. This is one of those rare productions where everything comes together perfectly - a great cast, wonderful sets, strong direction, amazing costumes, and top notch conducting & orchestral playing.
My hat must go off to David McVicar for pulling off brilliantly what is in my opinion the most difficult of Mozart's operas to stage convincingly. In fact, this is the first production of Zauberflote where I really felt that the staging was worthy of the music. While I have always loved the music, I have generally not been that impressed whenever I saw the opera performed - too many productions try to make it more cutesy or humorous than it really is, whereas in fact, Zauberflote is a very serious opera, more dark than light... McVicar realizes this, and gives us a Zauberflote that is appropriately weighty, dramatic and mysterious without shortchanging the more humorous aspects of the score. Bravo to whoever designed the costumes as well - I especially like the way they embrace the wierd and grotesque in the portrayal of Monostatos and the Queen of the Night.
The cast is a very strong one. Dorthea Roschmann is a real flesh-and-blood Pamina, who sings with a full-bodied tone and tremendous dramatic intensity. Tamino and Papageno are both well served by Will Hartmann and Simon Keenlyside, and Franz-Jospeh Selig is a noble Sarastro. My greatest praise however, goes to Diana Damrau who is the most amazingly scary Queen of the Night I have ever seen. She hits every note in her two big arias (no small feat) but it's her acting that is really incredible. She gives the most chilling overall portrayal I've ever seen, bar none. Wow...
Secondary roles are all ably cast as well. This is a big-time winner, and I recommend it to anyone interested in a DVD of this opera. Sound quality is very good, picture quality is good but a bit grainy at times (it appears to have been shot on digital film). 5 stars without question.
on September 22, 2003
Many of us hold up as the standard filmed version of 'The Magic Flute' the one that Ingmar Bergman did at Drottningholm perhaps twenty years ago. Obviously the film opened up the stage and made the opera more cinematic than a staged version could be.
This DVD is of a production taped digitally in January 2003 at Covent Garden, a new production staged by David McVicar, designed by John Macfarlane and conducted by that eminent Mozartian, Sir Colin Davis. And, of course, it is simply of a stage production; there is no breaking down the walls of the stage. However, the direction for video is both masterful and unobtrusive. And then there's the production itself.
The leading singers are all quite wonderful. The only slightly less than top-drawer singer, in my opinion, is Franz-Josef Selig as Sarastro; he has the cavernous bass required for the part but there is an incipient wobble that distracts. In the 'wonderful' category are some singers previously unknown to me. Tamino is sung by a young German tenor, Will Hartmann, whose voice reminds me of that star German tenor of yesteryear, Rudolf Schock; it is not innately beautiful but it is solid, masculine and has a ringing top. His acting is basic but more than adequate; Tamino is not a role that calls for great acting. The Queen of the Night, Diana Damrau, is not one of those coloratura canaries so often assigned to the role; she is a dramatic coloratura and not only does she sing the role well, her acting is believable. Her makeup and costume make her look, appropriately, like a cross between Morticia Addams and Cruella de Vil. A scary lady. Pamina is sung, and acted believably, by German soprano Dorothea Röschmann. Her 'Ach, ich fuhl's' is moving and utterly gorgeous. She has floated high notes that cause gooseflesh.
The lesser roles are also taken well. Papagena is humorous, physical and well-sung by Ailish Tynan. Monastatos is properly repellantly lecherous and sung with impeccable diction by Adrian Thompson. It was particularly heart-warming to see well-loved veteran basso, Richard Van Allen, as the First Priest; the voice is still there and his acting, as always, is spot on. Thomas Allen's Speaker is a bit less effective but still quite good. The three Ladies, the three Boys and the two Armed Men are all effective sung and acted.
My highest praise, though, goes to Simon Keenlyside who is quite simply the best Papageno I've ever seen. His is an extremely athletic performance; he takes some tumbles and makes some leaps that have you gasping in surprise. At one point he slides across the stage--trying to catch a bird at the end of his entrance aria--as well as any short-stop you've ever seen. His comic acting--aided by lots of close-ups--has you laughing out loud, and yet he portrays the longing for 'eine Weibchen' in a way that puts a lump in your throat. His sturdy baritone is one of the best around these days. A real triumph for him. The audience gave him, deservedly, the loudest and longest applause during the curtain calls.
Overall, this is the best staged production of 'Zauberflöte' I've ever seen. I was riveted and didn't even take a break between the two acts I was so drawn into it. Extras on the DVD inlude brief interviews with McVicar and Macfarlane, and a long interview--quite informative and utterly charming--with Sir Colin. There is also a spoken synopsis that is quite well done, and I'd suggest you view it before you view the opera if you're not very familiar with the plot.
I give this DVD my very highest recommendation.
on January 29, 2004
This DVD may be enjoyed by those who have seen the magic flute more than 10 times and are very familiar with so-to-say typical expression, style, etc. Music/singers are excellent, and there are a lot of modern innovation that could be praised (though to me many of them are negative). But to those who have listened CD, possibly have seen video or DVD once or twice, and buying this DVD for the first time, it will be a very disappointing purchase. It is just very different from what you would expect. And if you were to own just one DVD or VHS of the magic flute in your collection, this cannot be the one to go.
First, you will be shocked to find that the interesting conversation between Papageno and Tamino are cut out. Later also dialogue between Papageno and Monostatos is cut. The latter one really cut off one interesting scene from the play. I didn't notice all the other changes one by one, but we got an impression that it is largely cut and altered, and it is somehow losing essential elements of this opera.
The costumes are also shocking.
Tamino is dressed like a factory worker in early 20c rather than a prince in 17-18c. Papageno is like that, with a knit vest with ducks printed: while he sings "I will be plucked..." he does not have any feathers. He just wears a hat with a bird's head and wings sticking out, this is the only thing he wears as a "bird man".
Sarastro is dressed like a pirate rather than a mystic leader of secret organization.
Papagena is dressed like a modern-day prostitute with a regular fur coat on sexy dress with sun-glasses, and does not look like 80yr old at all from the beginning. She just looks like a crazy girl. She just takes her coat off when she becomes an 18yr old girl.
Monostatos: I think his appearance is related to the fact that they cut the dialogue: his face is painted all white and whiter than Papageno. So the scene of Papageno and Monostatos getting scared of each other, as Monostatos being black, Papageno being like a bird, is completely altered and reduced to a nonsensical scene. It might be due to political incorrectness, but cutting only this does not make sense since whole opera is politically incorrect anyway.
Three boys:they are really boys and they sing very well. Actually I bought this DVD because the other one (by a scandinavian group) used women for the boys. They dress like school boys. Not angelic at all.
The queen of night and three women are OK. They reminded me of Kabuki. Somehow all of them are always very tense.
As a summary for the costumes, I would say it is very down to earth. This opera is supposed to be a fairly tale, but the costumes contribute to anything but that.
I would like to comment on some positive things about this product besides the quality of music. Papageno's physical action is remarkable and funny. (I will not explain it here so that you could be surprised) Also animals (especially the bird and the dragon in the beginning) are cute and nice. And the model of the sun was good; they even got black spots on it.
Overall, if this was a CD of a collection of arias from the magic flute, it will be truthful and excellent quality. But if you have a DVD version called the magic flute, the visual effect and dialogues are key things. This DVD was like a combination of the arias from the magic flute, dialogues from somewhere else, and visual is from a modern hollywood blockbuster comedy movie.
I could say it is an elaborated and well-made production, and it is well-filmed, too. It is just different.
on July 17, 2004
Intellectually fascinating, emotionally enthralling and musically uplifting, this performance is perhaps one of the finest operatic experiences yet available on DVD. David McVicar's production is absolute magic and a brilliant focus for Colin Davis's extraordinary music-making.
on October 22, 2003
I chose this version for one reason. It was the only Zauberflote DVD I saw with digitally recorded Dolby 5.1 Surround audio. The audio is all I hoped for. Even if you can't sit and watch the DVD, play it just for the audio!
Simon Keenlyside as Papageno made this an excellent choice. His voice is awesome. Being able to see his facial expressions adds to his performance. Something you'd probably miss from most opera house seats. Diana Damrau handles her Queen of Night solos flawlessly. Her edgy costume and makeup are memorable. (She is pictured on the DVD cover.) Ailish Tynan as Papagena has some of the best comic moments with Simon Keenlyside.
on January 28, 2014
Watching Papageno's role in various productions, I came across this one with Simon Keenlyside. This is such a difference, compared with any others. The whole opera became so alive and so naturally understandable. A pleasure to watch and listen.