Musically the best flute ever....
Steve Edwards | Canterbuy, UK | 07/04/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I am a long time magic flute lover, who has heard or owned most of the major recording out there. Recently I started buying Mozart opera DVD's as they were good to introduce friends to the operas. I first bought the recent Davis/Royal Opera version, but found it a very mixed bag, so I decided to go for this one since Kurt Moll was always my favorite Sarastro on record and he sings the part here (The Sarastro on Davis was very dissapointing).The bad news is that Moll is not in quite as good voice as he was in either his Solti or Davis CD audio only performances. The good news is that he is still magnificent, and this is the best Zauberflote I have ever heard!I never had much respect for James Levine as a conductor. Well that has changed. For reference, my favorite flute's ever were 1)Christie on Erato 2)Klemperer on EMI 3)Beecham on EMI. All had there problems, but Christie I found to be the overall best flute I knew including all cast, conducting, acting, and recording. And it has been replaced by a DVD flute!What I loved about this performance:First of all the conducting is very fine. It is very sharp and disciplined performance with precise singing (litte romantic sliding of notes) and there is, best of all, a wonderful sense of listening between all the singers and the orcherstra. It was obviously meticulously rehearsed for the 1991 Mozart celebrations. Mozart is the most difficult music to perform because you cannot get away with any emotional sloppiness, which means a luminous precision is always called for. This performance has this quality better than any other I know.There are some weak bits in my opinion however. A few of the arias really drag their feet in a failed attempt for the conductor and singer to find the right inspiration. As much as I like Moll, I find his arias too slowly sung, as well as the Isis and Osiris chorale. Fortunately they still are very effective due to Moll's maginificent voice and the solemn nature of the music itself.Also, occasionally things can be a bit brisk to let the music breathe properly. Overall however, I would give this flute the best marks for conducting.The singing/acting also has no weak links and many outstanding aspects.Ariaza's Tamino is merely good--at his best with the speaker, and worst in final union music with Pamina. After the first trial he slightly misses a key timing, which when sung perfectly (hear Blochwitz on Christie) is one of the most sublime moments in the score. Still, this is a good, solid Tamino--well acted, suitably noble if a bit too old. Overall:B-The three ladies are some of the most delightful I've heard. The 2nd has a slightly grating tone, but their timing, harmoninzing, and accuracy puts them right at the top. A-Papageno is solid if rather a bit overdone. Hemm has a lusty, solid bavarian baritone which suits the part in my opinion. It is not a radiantly beautiful voice (hear Keenlyside on Davis), but solid and powerful. Many papageno's have been more charming, but Hemm is still good, and very find in ensembles. BSerra's Queen is up near my all time favorites: Popp on Klemperer, Dessay on Christie, Damrau on Davis. She rather lacks warmth however, which puts her slightly below these on the first aria. The 2nd is as good as anyone. A-Battle's Pamina is my favorite ever. I feel it was this sort of voice Mozart had in mind for the part--a radiant soprano. Battle's interpretive insights have often left me cold before, but I find her Pamina just spot on. She plays it with a Tempest Miranda sort of innocence and wornder. I find this suits Pamina exactly. A+Monostatos is also the best I have ever heard. Singers tend to make him rather bland for some reason, but this singer gives him oodles of dramatic force. A+Boys are superb. Their trio with battle's Pamina is the finest I have known as well. One boy in particular has amazing power and accuracy. ASarastro is Moll not in his best voice, but it is still Moll. AChoir. Big American heavy vibrato style. Not my cup of tea, but more importantly the choral pieces are sung with genuine Masonic fervor that makes them satisfying regardless. BSpeaker. Andreas Schmidt is as fine here as I have ever heard him. Wonderful warmth and force. AThis is getting too long! While there is much in this performance that I still can imagine better, in overall quality this is by some margin the best performance I have heard or seen of this opera. Certainly those who love particular parts more than others will find other performances superior (Tamino lovers for instance will always treasure Wunderlich/Bohm), but if you love every note of this opera as well as its Masonic themes, I would give this the top recommendation.O, A+ english subtitles too. Video,sound and production are good, though not the best in my opinion. Overall the production has a sort of childish artistic style to it, which I thought was fine. But then Im mostly here for the music."
Manfred Hemm as Papageno steals the spotlight
R. Nicholson | 12/14/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
"A generally enjoyable DVD!Die Zauberflote, Mozart's last opera, performed on this disc by the Metropolitan Opera under the direction of James Levine.The cast features such stars as Kathleen Battle (Pamina), Fancisco Araiza (Tamino), Manfred Hemm (Papageno), Kurt Moll (Sarasto), and Luciana Serra as the Queen of the Night. Brian Large, who has vast experience with opera, directs this major work. This opera showcases the voice and acting skills of Kathleen Battle: she is brilliant, beautiful and with a voice that could only be described as a gift. Also noteworthy are the exquisite vocals by Luciana Serra as the Queen of the Night. However, it is Manfred Hemm as Papageno who steals the spotlight: from beginning to end, his funny interpretation of his character (accompanied by his great voice) carries this work to its fitting conclusion.The only negative comment (thus the loss of one star) was the surreal quality of the sets. Frankly, I thought they were ugly and if anything, detracted from an otherwise stellar performance. Also the overture featured, I felt, a little too much of James Levine: surely, some more shots of the orchestra could have been inserted here somewhere.While The Magic Flute is not my favorite opera by Mozart, this is, all things being considered, an enjoyable performance. Musically, I could honestly recommend this DVD."
It couldn't be better!
Todd V. LEONE | 06/22/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Artist David Hockney's set design adds a wonderful dimension to this production (which premiered in San Francisco with a mostly different cast). Given that "The Magic Flute" is a fairy tale, I found the imaginative and whimsical sets very pleasing. The cast is wonderful too. Kathleen Battle's Pamina is beautiful to behold and wonderful to listen to -- her voice is sweet, never shrill. Manfred Hemm as Papageno is just cute enough, nicely engaging and the perfect comic actor for this role. The stately Kurt Moll as Sarastro the high priest sings with the voice of God himself (as well he should in the aria 'Im diesen heilgen Hallen'). Luciana Serra simply IS the Queen of the Night. If I don't mention the others, it's for lack of space. James Levine's orchestra is topnotch (well, this is the Met, so what else would it be?). Subtitles make the "singspiel" libretto accessible to us English speakers. If you want a definitive version of "The Magic Flute," take my advice and buy this one!"
Excellent production/excellent performance.
Will Benton | Madison, WI United States | 02/22/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Of course, this made-for-VHS production (which possibly aired on PBS at one point) does not have the video quality of some films on DVD, but it is quite crisp and vibrant, and has the special touches (wonderful costumes/props/sets) of a Met production. The Met touch is especially nice for Zauberflote, as it frequently receives a "minimalist" staging. Manfred Hemm is excellent as Papageno and Kurt Moll is an incredible -- if slightly unconfident in the lower register at times -- Sarastro. This is an opera that even people who hate opera will love. Spoken dialogue is included, so the plot is intelligible (especially with German, French, Chinese and English subtitles). The performance rivals the best I've heard, and you are not liable to find a better DVD edition."