Mozart-Die Zauberflote (Metropolitan Opera) (1991) (NTSC)

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Released 4-Jun-2001

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Opera Booklet
Discography-DVD Releases
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1991
Running Time 166:29 (Case: 169)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (84:50) Cast & Crew
Start Up Programme
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Brian Large
Studio
Distributor
Metropolitan Opera
Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Kathleen Battle
Luciana Serra
Francisco Araiza
Manfred Hemm
Kurt Moll
Barbara Kilduff
Heinz Zednik
Andreas Schmidt
Juliana Gondek
Mimi Lerner
Judith Christin
Glenn Alpert
Dennis Williams
Case Flexbox
RPI $36.95 Music Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart


Video (NTSC) Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame Audio Linear PCM 48/16 2.0 (1536Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 480i (NTSC)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles German
English
French
Chinese
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) is perhaps one of the most beloved and accessible of operas written by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and yet at the same time one of the least typical or representative of his operatic works.

    First of all, technically it's not even an opera - it's a "Singspiel" (literally - "sing-play", or a play with songs). In other words, it is the eighteenth century equivalent of a musical. It was commissioned by Emanuel Schikaneder - actor, singer, proprietor of the Theater auf der Wieden in Vienna and an old friend of Mozart's - who also wrote the libretto. The Theater auf der Wieden is not exactly a royal opera house - it caters for a decidedly broader audience than the royal patronage of Mozart's previous operas. Schikaneder was fond of staging what he called "magic" operas - a simple fairy tale with a vaguely Oriental setting set against a lavish spectacle full of stage machinery, live animals, lighting effects and comical dialogue and songs.

    What sets Die Zauberflöte apart from a typical Mozart opera, or even a typical Schikaneder "magic" opera, are the strong references to Masonic philosophy, musical characteristics, allusions and even rites and rituals. Both Schikaneder and Mozart were Freemasons and members of the same lodge and nobody knows quite why a rather simple fairy tale evolved to the complex Masonic allegory and political commentary that the opera eventually became. The libretto is also quite difficult for anyone sympathetic to feminist thinking to swallow - it has some lines in the libretto that are frankly extremely misogynistic and deprecating of women, even bordering on the offensive.

    What saves the opera is the music. Deceptively simple, it will charm the most hardened and cynical of listeners and you'll find yourself humming some of the songs for days after.

    Somewhat surprisingly, this opera only has two Acts, each around 70-80 minutes.

    In the first act, we are introduced to all the main characters: a noble (if somewhat unheroic and prone to persuasion) prince called Tamino (Francisco Araiza), a rather simple-minded bird catcher named Papageno (played by Manfred Hemm with tongue firmly in cheek and in high camp), the Queen of the Night (Luciana Serra), Pamina (Kathleen Battle) - the daughter of the Queen of the Night, and Sarastro (Kurt Moll), the High Priest of Isis and Osiris. Tamino is saved from an untimely death in the clutches of a fire-breathing serpent. His saviours, in the service of the Queen of the Night, shows him a picture of Pamina and he immediately falls in love with the girl in the picture, who turns out to be the daughter of the Queen. The Queen leads him to believe Pamina is being held against her will by an evil priest called Sarastro and if he rescues Pamina he will able able to marry her. He travels in the company of Papageno, and some magical presents from the Queen - including a magic flute (hence the name of the opera) and a music box. They are also guided along their journey by three boys. Once they arrive at Sarastro's palace, Tamino gradually realises that Sarastro is in fact a good man and the Queen is scheming to get Tamino to kill Sarastro for her own devious and nefarious purposes.

    In the second Act, Tamino and Papageno undergoes a set of trials in order to prove they are worthy to become initiates of the Temple. The reward for both if they succeed is to be able to unite with the loves of their lives: Pamina in the case of Tamino and the promise of a "soul mate" for Papageno called, surprise surprise, Papagena. Needless to say they succeed, the Queen of the Night is thwarted, and everyone lives happily ever after.

    The plot is internally inconsistent and reflects the many and varied sources from which it was inspired. Even the authorship of the libretto is in question, with some claiming that Johann Georg Metzler (known as Giesecke) may have been partly or wholly responsible. Certainly the libretto shows the scars from numerous revisions: Tamino supposedly wears a "Japanese" hunting costume (corresponding to the original "Oriental" theme of the opera) and yet the opera itself is set in Ancient Egypt (Isis and Osiris are Egyptian gods) - supposedly the source of Masonic wisdom. We are not even sure what musical instrument Papageno is carrying - variously described as a "Waldflötchen" ("forest piccolo") to "Faunenflötchen" (pan-pipes).

    This is a Metropolitan Opera production, based on an original San Franscisco Opera production, with sets designed by David Hockney and the Metropolitan Opera orchestra and chorus conducted by James Levine. David draws upon the Ancient Egyptian setting of the opera to create set designs based on Egyptian themes and James gives a rather heavy-handed (and curiously lacking in dynamics) rendition of the score. I find Mandred Hemm's performance of Papageno way too campy - he lacks the subtle humour of a Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. Francisco Araiza gives a very straight and dour rendition of Tamino. Kathleen Battle plays a wonderfully expressive and radiant Pamina and Kurt Moll sings Sarastro in a slow and stately manner that brings out the beauty of the arias but can also sound rather ponderous.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality

Video

    Given that the film (video?) source was originally intended for broadcast TV, this transfer is presented in the original full frame aspect ratio of 1.33:1.

    The transfer is somewhat on the soft side and the colours have a tendency to err towards the yellow and sepia, but probably reflects the quality of the film stock.

    The transfer looks like it was originally intended for laserdisc, as edge enhancement is evident throughout the transfer. Various MPEG compression artefacts permeate the transfer, including pixelization and Gibb's effect, but never at a level that would cause annoyance. Indeed, I am somewhat surprised that compression artefacts are not more pronounced given the rather low transfer rate (indicating high levels of compression).

    There are a number of subtitle tracks on this disc, and I turned on the English subtitle track for most of the performance. The translation is fairly accurate, but the authors of the track have not bothered repeating the translation during songs where a phrase or verse is repeated - thus there are often quite lengthy gaps during which the characters sing but no corresponding translation appears in the subtitle track.

    This is a single sided dual layered (RSDL) disc with the layer change occurring at 84:50, during a natural break in the scene. It is not noticeable at all unless you go specifically hunting for it which I did.



Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    This disc only has one audio track - German PCM Stereo.

    The quality of the audio track seems slightly below CD quality but above VHS Hi Fi quality. Compared to say a CD recording, it lacks deep bass and extreme high end, indicating that frequency extremes have been attenuated to optimise for TV transmission.

    The audio track itself is quite clear and pleasant to listen to, apart from a few clicks here and there that can be attributed to stage noises or noises emanating from the orchestra pit. Thankfully, audience noises are kept to a minimum.

    Dialogue is always clearly enunciated (or at least seems to be given I don't understand German) and I can detect no issues with audio synchronisation.

    As this is a stereo track, there is no surround nor subwoofer activity.

 

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    There are no extras present on this disc (unless you consider some promotional stills of other titles in the Deutsche Grammophon DVD classical catalogue as an extra). Even the menu does not appear unless you specifically press the MENU button on the DVD player - the main feature starts automatically upon disc insertion and the player actually stops at the end instead of going to the menu.

Menu

    Static and full frame. You can choose between English and Chinese as the menu language.

Discography - DVD Releases

    This lists some other DVD titles available from Deutsche Grammophon

Booklet

    This is a 28 page booklet with cast and crew listings, chapter titles and timing, a synopsis of the opera (in English and German), and various photos from the production.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    This is a Region 0 NTSC disc and is presumably the same around the world.

Summary

    This is a rather pleasant if somewhat ponderous production of Mozart's famous opera Die Zauberflöte, featuring the Egyptian-influenced set designs of David Hockney and the orchestral direction of James Levine. It is definitely worth watching if you are a fan of the opera, but does not really compare to the superb film version (sung in Swedish no less) by Ingmar Bergman. It is presented on a bare-bones DVD with acceptable audio and video transfers.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Christine Tham (read my biography)
Tuesday, July 24, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-626D, using Component output
DisplaySony VPL-VW10HT LCD Projector, ScreenTechnics 16x9 matte white screen (254cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationDenon AVR-3300
SpeakersFront and rears: B&W CDM7NT; centre: B&W CDMCNT; subwoofer: B&W ASW2500

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