Many of us hold up as the standard filmed version of 'The Magic Flute' the one that Ingmar Bergman did at Drottningholm perhaps twenty years ago. Obviously the film opened up the stage and made the opera more cinematic than a staged version could be.
This DVD is of a production taped digitally in January 2003 at Covent Garden, a new production staged by David McVicar, designed by John Macfarlane and conducted by that eminent Mozartian, Sir Colin Davis. And, of course, it is simply of a stage production; there is no breaking down the walls of the stage. However, the direction for video is both masterful and unobtrusive. And then there's the production itself.
The leading singers are all quite wonderful. The only slightly less than top-drawer singer, in my opinion, is Franz-Josef Selig as Sarastro; he has the cavernous bass required for the part but there is an incipient wobble that distracts. In the 'wonderful' category are some singers previously unknown to me. Tamino is sung by a young German tenor, Will Hartmann, whose voice reminds me of that star German tenor of yesteryear, Rudolf Schock; it is not innately beautiful but it is solid, masculine and has a ringing top. His acting is basic but more than adequate; Tamino is not a role that calls for great acting. The Queen of the Night, Diana Damrau, is not one of those coloratura canaries so often assigned to the role; she is a dramatic coloratura and not only does she sing the role well, her acting is believable. Her makeup and costume make her look, appropriately, like a cross between Morticia Addams and Cruella de Vil. A scary lady. Pamina is sung, and acted believably, by German soprano Dorothea Röschmann. Her 'Ach, ich fuhl's' is moving and utterly gorgeous. She has floated high notes that cause gooseflesh.
The lesser roles are also taken well. Papagena is humorous, physical and well-sung by Ailish Tynan. Monastatos is properly repellantly lecherous and sung with impeccable diction by Adrian Thompson. It was particularly heart-warming to see well-loved veteran basso, Richard Van Allen, as the First Priest; the voice is still there and his acting, as always, is spot on. Thomas Allen's Speaker is a bit less effective but still quite good. The three Ladies, the three Boys and the two Armed Men are all effective sung and acted.
My highest praise, though, goes to Simon Keenlyside who is quite simply the best Papageno I've ever seen. His is an extremely athletic performance; he takes some tumbles and makes some leaps that have you gasping in surprise. At one point he slides across the stage--trying to catch a bird at the end of his entrance aria--as well as any short-stop you've ever seen. His comic acting--aided by lots of close-ups--has you laughing out loud, and yet he portrays the longing for 'eine Weibchen' in a way that puts a lump in your throat. His sturdy baritone is one of the best around these days. A real triumph for him. The audience gave him, deservedly, the loudest and longest applause during the curtain calls.
Overall, this is the best staged production of 'Zauberflöte' I've ever seen. I was riveted and didn't even take a break between the two acts I was so drawn into it. Extras on the DVD inlude brief interviews with McVicar and Macfarlane, and a long interview--quite informative and utterly charming--with Sir Colin. There is also a spoken synopsis that is quite well done, and I'd suggest you view it before you view the opera if you're not very familiar with the plot.
I give this DVD my very highest recommendation.