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Image Entertainment presents
Mozart's The Magic Flute (1989)

"We will only arrive in time to be roasted alive."
- Papageno (Mikael Samuelson)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: November 20, 2002

Stars: Ann-Christine Biel, Stefan Dahlberg, Laszslo Polgar, Birgit Louise Frandsen, Mikael Samuelson, Birgitta Larsson, Anita Soldh, Linnéa Sallay, Inger Blom, Petteri Salomaa, Magnus Kyhle
Other Stars: Chorus and Orchestra of the Drottningholm Court Theatre, Arnold Östman
Director: Thomas Olofsson

Manufacturer: Ritek Digital Video
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (suicidal ideations)
Run Time: 02h:40m:14s
Release Date: October 22, 2002
UPC: 014381930924
Genre: opera

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B AC-D+ D-

DVD Review

When Die Zauberflöte, or The Magic Flute, Mozart's last major completed work, was premiered in 1791, it was presented as "by Emanuel Schikaneder." Mozart's participation as conductor and incidentally composer was relegated to a mere footnote on the playbill. Artists who find themselves unappreciated in their lifetimes may take some comfort from this lack of appreciation for Mozart's musical genius. Unfortunately, his work is married to an incomprehensible mess of a libretto, thanks largely to Schikaneder. Between bizarre pseudo-mystical claptrap and obscure Masonic symbolism, the work is largely impenetrable to most audiences.

Prince Tamino (Stefan Dahlberg) is saved from a serpent by three ladies in waiting to the Queen of the Night (Birgit Louise Frandson). The Queen commands Tamino to rescue her daughter Pamina (Ann Christine Biel) from the clutches of Sarastro (Laszlo Polgar). The birdcatcher Papageno (Mikael Samuelson) is sent to be his sidekick. The pair of them are given a magic flute and a set of magic silver bells, the exact powers of which are never quite delineated. They journey to Egypt, but instead of rescuing Pamina, they become initiates into Sarastro's cult dedicated to Isis and Osiris, where they are required to undergo several tests. Tamino of course falls in love with Pamina, and Papageno meets his female counterpart, Papagena (Birgitta Larsson), who is initially an old crone, but eventually becomes a young maiden. The flute and bells somehow help them pass their tests and everyone turns on the Queen of the Night.

Anyone looking for a narrative thread that makes any sense here is bound to be sorely disappointed. Tamino decides to side with Sarastro essentially just on the sayso of the latter that the Queen is evil, not him (never mind that he kidnapped Pamina and holds her prisoner at the mercy of his underling Monostratos). Then he makes the pair undergo various ridiculous tests for no good reason, and success or failure at the tests seems to make no difference at all. The theme of being tested and worthiness is constant, but given that Papageno fails all the tests and is deemed worthy anyway, one cannot help but wonder about the integrity of the system. Of course, the testing and worth are all integral to the Masonic undercurrent of the opera, which explains much that is seemingly bizarre here. But since Mozart was rumored to have been murdered by Masons for spilling their secrets in this opera, I won't venture to hazard any explanations in the interests of personal safety and paranoia. The substance grade relates to Mozart's music only; the story is beyond grading.

The performers here are capable enough. As usual, the Papageno steals the show with his comic part, and his duet with Papagena demonstrates exact timing and precision to the nth degree. Polgar as Sarastro is a much more dynamic and vibrant bass than one usually sees in this part, and the result is quite pleasing to fans of the male voice. The part of the Queen is one of the most demanding vocally in all of the repertoire, and for the most part Frandson carries it off admirably well. Her climactic high F's are sometimes a bit strained sounding, but the lengthy vocal gymnastics demonstrated in her two arias are otherwise quite satisfactory. The rest of the cast is generally adequate, without anyone standing out as not being up to the performance. I did feel that more could have been given by Magnus Khyle as the wicked Moor Monostratos who lusts after Pamina; such a one-note character needs to be played more broadly than Khyle seems to be willing to do.

Purists will note that the score is slightly rearranged in this production, but the result actually benefits the dramatic structure by putting the climactic test closer to the end. The orchestra performs on period instruments (and in period costume), lending this recording some distinction for those who are interested in historically informed performance. The balance as a result tends to lean more heavily towards the winds than the strings, but in a play about a mystical woodwind, that's peculiarly appropriate.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The full-frame picture has some serious drawbacks. While quite soft, as to be expected in a television production, the shadows are very much plugged up and almost zero shadow detail is visible. The face of Monostratos is nearly obliterated, so that he is only teeth and eyes like a 19th-century pickaninny caricature. It's too bad, since what is visible in the backgrounds, painted to resemble old engravings, are attractive and evocative of Mozart's period. One can't help but feel that the viewer is missing most of what was present on the stage.

Image Transfer Grade: C-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Germanno

Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 German audio track is generally acceptable from a technical standpoint. The vocals are center-oriented with Dolby Surround decoding, while the orchestra comes from all speakers. Beyond this, however, there's little directionality evident. Since this is a live performance, there's an inescapable amount of background hiss and noise, but the Drottningholm Court Theatre where this was taped is not a suitable venue for such an event. There is a tremendous amount of backstage racket that comes through to the miking and thus the music is constantly being spoiled by extraneous thumping, bumping and banging. The result is infuriating much of the time. This would have been a high B grade, if not for the background cacophony. As usual on Image's opera discs, the applause is mixed far too loud.

Audio Transfer Grade: D+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 38 cues and remote access
Music/Song Access with 36 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:07m:54s

Extras Review: Would it kill producers of opera discs to offer some extras occasionally? A bio of the composer, or some of the artists? Production notes? Surely there must have been something interesting to say about the period performance presented here, but it remains a dark Masonic secret. There are removable English subtitles here, and at least an insert with the musical numbers, which is better than most such discs, but overall that's quite inadequate. The layer change, at the act break, is seamless.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

A period performance with some fine lead performances, though there is too much distracting ambient noise to make this an unhesitating recommendation. And don't expect any extras, or the story to make any sense.


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