It?s hard to find a version of Mozart?s Die Zauberflöte that?s as well sung as this 2003 Covent Garden production. Led by the eminent Mozartian, Sir Colin Davis, orchestra and singers present a warm, often intense vision o... more »f the opera, not as the fairy tale it?s often taken for, but as a human drama of the passage from misguided beliefs to mature knowledge of self. Diana Damrau is the Queen of the Night for our time, with show-stopping bravura singing that tosses off the score?s terrifying high notes with almost casual abandon. Her acting and her fright outfit never leave you in doubt that she?s the evil presence here, even when she?s pretending to be a good mom concerned about her daughter, Pamina. Dorothea Röschmann is superb, floating pianissimo notes to die for and singing with a beautifully rounded soprano allied to a dramatic sense that make her Ach, ich fuhl's so moving. Will Hartman is a virile Tamino, a bit heavier of voice than most of the lyric tenors who take the role, but singing well. Like most Tamino?s, he?s upstaged by Papageno, the bird-catcher who?s his sidekick. Baritone Simon Keenlyside offers the best-sung Papageno one could hope to hear, and while he?s funny in many of his more physical scenes, he replaces the usual clownish buffoon with an earth-bound Everyman. The noble Sarastro, the lovers? guide to self-realization, is well sung by Franz-Josef Selig, whose ample bass easily encompasses the low Fs that make most basses sound strained. The smaller roles are done well, too. Ailish Tynan has a romp as Papagena; the evil Monostatos is done to vocal and acting perfection by Adrian Thompson, the Queen?s Three Ladies are well-matched and appropriately edgy, and the Temple Priests are convincingly sung and acted. This production of Die Zauberflöte is a dark one. Producer David McVicar and conductor Davis reject the relatively recent transformation of the opera into a Disney-like romp for kids. The comic element in the opera is there, but its philosophical underpinnings--humanity?s fitful progress to a higher plane ? are paramount. There are still plenty of laughs with the fake dragon that pursues Tamino at the opera?s opening and Papageno?s funny business with a bird, among other chuckle-inducing scenes. But the production?s Stygian backgrounds make for an oppressive setting. When light enters, as in the pomp of Sarastro?s entry or the blazing yellow disc of the sun that conquers darkness, the opera?s meanings are crystal-clear. Most of the characters wear 18th Century outfits, to comic effect as Monostatos? heavy makeup, lipsticked mouth, and elaborate wig. But there are occasional incongruities: Tamino?s smock, the Three Boys? knit sweaters and short pants, and Papagana?s mangy fur coat, among others. They?re well intregrated into the staging so they don?t jar. Nor, aside from the occasional too-tight closeups, does the video direction. In the special features, Davis speaks of the opera?s tension between "lighthearted music and the seriousness of the story," and all elements of this production fuse those key aspects in a way that makes this Blu-ray disc a joy to hear and watch. --Dan Davis« less
"This rendition of the opera is delightfull. The video is excellent and the sound is amazing. The performance in general is a masterpiece, the Queen of the night performance is a tour de force. Papagino is delightful, funny without being overdone and with great vocal presence. This is truly a remarkable piece both the video and the performing perspectives. Can't wait for more!"
Very good, but lacking the "magic"
D. DEGEORGE | Ellicott City, MD USA | 09/10/2009
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Let nothing I say here imply that this is less than a first-class production of Zauberflöte, and it's not a bad way to start one's collection of operas on Blu-ray. The singers are all at least good, if not uniformly great. The following singers are excellent: Simon Keenlyside (Papageno) with a voice that is expressive, well-managed, and handsome in every way, not to mention that his acting is a thorough delight; Diana Damrau (Queen of the Night), manic and technically and dramatically brilliant; and Dorothea Röschmann (Pamina) with creamy tone and perfect technique. This is not a girlish princess, which is to say that the role is often sung with a lighter voice; but I cannot complain about a voice as luxuriant as this. Sometimes Tamino and Pamina are presented as characters just barely out of their teens, which can suit the freshness and innocence implied by their roles; however, this thirtyish-looking couple works fine, too, especially as it allows us to experience fuller voices. Röschmann probably looks rather young from seats in the theater, but the Blu-ray close-ups aren't very flattering. The Three Ladies are also among the most excellent singers in this performance. Choral work is very good, as would be expected in Britain.
This performance falls short of the best in several respects. The first weakness I observed was during the overture, which failed to build much excitement or sense of anticipation for this evening of magic & music. I have never wholly understood why Colin Davis is held in such high regard as a Mozart & Haydn conductor (his reputation as a Berlioz interpreter is better deserved in my opinion). "Fortune favors the bold" is a line in the libretto, which should have been heeded by Davis, who fails to ask much of the orchestra and doesn't get any more than asks for. Everything is elegant, safe, and in its place; and only rarely do things sound stodgy; but there is neither fire nor anything else particularly revelatory or affecting.
The sets and costumes are just OK; they do not detract (as in the stark & cartoonish Met production premiered in 2006); but they don't add much either, except for those worn by the Queen of the Night and Sarastro.
Will Hartmann is not especially well cast as Tamino--it would be nice if he looked more youthful; however, in the world of operatic tenors, one could do a lot worse; and I am being especially picky here, but I must say that his intonation falls a touch short of the ideal in that it is not 100% secure, and he often lands a bit sharp on upward leaps.
Franz-Josef Selig is convincing as Sarastro and has a voice that is rich throughout its range but especially impressive in the lower registers. At the risk of undermining my own credibility, I have to admit that I do not like the work of operatic basses very much; their bellowing is often wobbly & pitch-inaccurate. Once in a great while one runs across a bass who is fully in command of his instrument, but this is not one of those times. So that I don't malign all of bassdom, I'll mention that John Relyea and Bryn Terfel are excellent positive examples; unfortunately, both are bass-baritones rather than bassi profundi; and I have to admit that Selig's heft on the low notes is perfect for Sarastro.
Adrian Thompson is suitably snarly & nasty as Monostatos. I have heard the role sung much more pleasantly by others, more for its musical beauty than dramatic character; here, however, Thompson trades prettiness for loathsomeness. Of course by that reasoning, a Papageno should have been chosen with more vulnerability in his voice, rather than the strength we get from Keenlyside. All things considered, if I had to be absolutely consistent, I'd say go with Keenlyside's musicality rather than Thompson's theatricality; but I am not upset to have both approaches in the same opera. The inconsistency in casting philosophy may, however, help to account for the lack of a sense of unity in this performance; there is little chemistry among the cast.
Even though the Popageno-Papagena romance is nominally a side show next to the serious subject of "rescuing" Pamina, the former is the emotional center of the opera for me. The duet that starts off silly with the repetition of Popageno's and Papagena's names but then makes a turn into one of the most rapturous climaxes in all music. Productions can make a big deal of it or not and be dramatically true; but a great opportunity is lost if it is not played to the hilt, which, to change metaphors, means that the music has to be milked for all its considerable worth. It has to be allowed to breathe and reach its climax at full force with no rushing or glibness. This performance doesn't reach the height of the very best; but neither does it trivialize, even though the scene is played mostly for its comic value; and Keenlyside's & Ailish Tynan's rich voices provide an abundance of beauty and substance.
To sum up, this is an expert performance, with many fine moments, that runs just a bit too much like clockwork. One of the reviews of the standard DVD version of this production gets it right: "Flute, yes. Magic, no." Also among the reviews of the standard DVD, there is as of this writing a very accurate assessment of this production, which gives it two stars and is titled "Disappointing," Although I rate the disc a little more highly, I find myself almost completely in agreement with the detailed assessment there, one exception being that, as noted above, I thought the chorus was rather good. When looking at reviews of a Blu-ray disc, for which there is only a small sample of opinion, it behooves one to look at the more plentiful reviews available for the standard-DVD issue.
Finally, speaking of Blu-ray, this disc is technically fine, in 5.1 PCM audio, which is to say no matrixing or compression--each channel has at least the full quality of a CD. That is not to say that the miking and dynamic range are perfect, but they are quite good. With a large-screen monitor the sharp HD image puts one right onstage. "
I cannot recommend highly enough this disc!
Paul Dickinson | Chicago, IL | 12/01/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Many of the early enthusiasts who argued that BD is capable of providing an entirely new type of viewing experience will certainly find a great deal of comfort in Opus Arte's impeccably produced Die Zauberflote. The Blu-ray disc offers two audio options: a German 2.0 and 5.1 PCM Stereo tracks. I did experiment with a number of different scenes from this disc and the biggest and most obvious example of how much better the 5.1 track is is when you have the choir singing. There is substantially more depth to the sound, more color if you will. When watching this disc keep in mind that what you see is a "live" performance where every single line, move, and note are unique. Then also consider the enormous work that has gone into the elaborate costumes and stage designs, how they are captured by the camera, and transfered to BD - frankly, I don't think you could match the degree of authenticity this BD release offers in any other format."
There's a reason Damrau is on the front cover
Ernest Alba | Cambridge, MA | 12/08/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I have NOT seen the HD version of this production of The Magic Flute. But I've seen HD movies and heard HD sound. As soon as I saw that this particular production was on HD-DVD...my mouth started salivating like Homer after seeing a doughnut. This beast is worth buying if only to see Damrau perform the Queen of the Night aria in HD-sound and HD-video because, as you may or may not know, she is not only one of the best singers in the world, but one of the best actors as well. Because of this, no coloratura soprano, except perhaps Serra, comes close to matching Damrau in on-stage presence. Watching her perform is a life-transforming experience - and that is just from watching her in a tiny Youtube window. The thought of watching her on a large screen in HD with HD audio...mmmmm...Damrau in HD...ahhhhh. BUY THIS! You won't be able to stop watching or putting it on for guests!"
Great Production and greater performance!!
H. Rodriguez | Phoenix, Arizona United States | 11/28/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I have seen many versions of Mozart's Die Zauberflote in the last 40 years and this particular production is the best yet! Papageno, The Queen of The Night, Tamino and Tamina were wonderful. The stage and musical directors followed in detail the libretto. The performance lasts over 2 hours and 40 minutes of perfectly written areas and recitatives. This is a treasure for Opera lovers and Mozart's fans. The HD and the DTS 5.1 are pefect for this performance.
Note: when setting up the sound, make sure you click on the second choice to get the full range of sound. If you click on the top choice (decompressed True HD sound), you lose db's and the sound is muffled).