The Met’s abridged version of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, in English, got an HD broadcast in 2006 and a subsequent DVD release. It’s Julie Taymor’s production and it’s visually spectacular with giant sets, loads of very effective puppets and very good dancers (I wish every opera company used dance as effectively as the Met. Too expensive I guess). It’s more something one might expect to see at Bregenz than at the Four Seasons Centre. Costuming is sometimes a bit weird. The Three Ladies have removable heads and the chorus of priests look like origami angels but it’s never less than interesting visually. There’s nothing about the cuts (it comes in at about an hour and threequarters) that changes the plot in any way that makes it obviously kid friendly beyond being shorter and there’s no attempt to make it anything other than a pretty fairy tale. If one wants a Flute with deep meaning this isn’t it.
The performances are generally very good though some of the cast are very obviously not native English speakers. The stand out in the singing department is Matthew Polenzani as Tamino. He’s clearly entirely comfortable with singing in English and all the big numbers sound terrific. The acting star is Nathan Gunn as Papageno. He probably benefits most from JD McClatchy’s breezy English translation and he milks it for all the laughs. He’s also very physical to the point where sometimes one fears for safety. very decent singing too. René Pape as Sarastro is predictably majestic but, oddly, doesn’t seem as happy in English as he does in the Branagh film. Erika Miklósa is a suitably scary Queen of the Night and she’s rock solid in Do not fear. Hell’s vengeance though seems to task her English. She’s great in the coloratura but the words seem to get away from her at times. Ying Huang’s Pamina seems a bit milquetoast but maybe that’s the production. She’s also taxed by some Klemperer like tempi in her big numbers. The rest of the cast is fine though I’m surprised the Met couldn’t find better boy sopranos than the ones used here. They certainly wouldn’t cut the mustard in Vienna. James Levine conducts and it’s solid, going on plodding. Mozart à la Met.
Gary Halvorson directs for video. It’s typical. Right from the get go there are way too many close ups and we rarely see the monumental and detailed stage picture the design team has created. The only excuse I can see for this is that a lot of it is quite dark and I suspect DVD resolution would not have handled it well (there’s no Blu-ray). Sound on the other hand (LPCM stereo and DTS) is very good. Unusually for a met HD derived DVD it’s not presented like the broadcast. It’s run straight through with no break between acts and no interviews. Indeed the overture plays over the opening credits. There are no extras on the disk and the booklet was missing from my library copy. I assume there was one. Subtitles are English only and frankly superfluous.
So who is this for? I’m not sure. For someone who wants an abridged English language Magic Flute I guess. The nearest alternative alternative is the quite different Branagh film. For visually spectacular one can go whole hog with Pountney’s Bregenz version (seen by me in webcast not on disk) which is now available on Blu-ray. For kid friendly there’s Audi’s technocolour Salzburg production and if one wants some kind of “meaning” there’s MacVicar’s rather dark ROH version or, top pick for me, Carsen’s life affirming reinterpretation from Baden-Baden. The MacVicar and Carsen also have the attraction of being available on Blu-ray.