This opera was the first I ever saw and therefore it has a very special place in my heart. Having seen Glyndbourne's production of Le Nozze di Figaro, which is excellent, I hade quite some expectations on this DVD. Unfortunately it is, in a word, MISERABLE. The singing is ok (hence the 2 stars), but the rest... Visually it is a complete failure. The sets and costumes are silly and in most cases even ugly, and somehow the make-up artist has managed to make Felicity Lott (Pamina) look old, grey and generally boring. She is supposed to sparkle, she is a beautiful young princess, for heaven's sake! The sound isn't very good, either. There is a DVD from the Met with almost exact the same visual design, but they somehow carry it off a bit better. The only reason I can see to buy this DVD is if you want to complete any kind of Zauberflöte collection, but oterwhise - avoid it!
I have seen four Magic Flutes over the past year and find this by far the most pleasing. For me the theatricality of the settings is part of the attraction - Hockey's designs and use of colour are striking and atmospheric. It is well acted and brilliantly sung especially by Felicity Lott and Benjamin Luxon. The balance between orchestra and singers is very good. Altogether a delight. I'd have prefered the "three genies" to be the "three boys" of the original as I think trebles give more variety but it's a minor point. All I need to do now is to fathom what it's all about - join the masons?? submit to authority?? watch out for women and moors ???
Over the years I have purchased a number of DVDs of Die Zauberflote and this by a long way is the most disappointing. I cannot fault the playing or the singing (hence three stars) but the ever reliable Felicity Lott (Pamina) looks rather tired, Benjamin Luxon (Papageno) tends to overact and Tamino is not helped by an unfortunate haircut. Among the small roles Willard White is most impressive as the speaker. My main problems are with the poor photography (far too many closeups) and the sets which look both tatty and uninspiring. This is strange for some two years after this recording (1978) the Met used virtually the same Hockney sets and often similar style costumes. For some reason things worked much better in New York. At Glyndebourne the camerawork is such that at times the stage looks cluttered with singers and there are too many awkward pauses which disrupts continuity.
The only reason that I can see for buying this particular version is that a devotee wants to create his/her own Die Zauberflote library. If you plan to buy only one version for my money the best available is the 1982 production live from the Salzburger Festspiele. The master in charge is the legendary Jean-Pierre Ponnelle and the action is well captured for video by the vastly experienced Brian Large. There is fine singing throughout including the sensational Edita Gruberova in one of her first outings as Konigin der Nacht.