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181 of 185 people found the following review helpful
on March 9, 2001
About Swedish auteur Ingmar Bergman's 1974 film-version of Mozart's fairy-tale opera "The Magic Flute" ("Trollflöjten" in Swedish), I am probably unable to be objective. I saw it when it came out, when I was in my second year as a student of Germanic and Scandinavian languages at UCLA. The girl I took to see it on the night that it opened at the Avco cinemas on Westwood Boulevard was baffled by it. She made it perfectly clear that she had no interest in dating me again. But my mother liked it when I insisted that she accompany me to see it, and so did my sister. Two years ago, when my son turned four, I ordered the VHS edition and introduced the lad to it; he responded immediately, was deeply impressed by the antics of Håken Hågegård's Papageno, and has been humming the tunes ever since. Recently I showed it to the students in my "Critical Philosophical Problems" class at Northwood University in Midland, Michigan. The Criterion DVD of Bergman's production is the best home-version yet. What is it that makes this the most endearing cinematic or video representation of Mozart's opera? Bergman filmed in the baroque Drottningsholmtheater in Stockholm. He exploits the wonderful charm of eighteenth century stagecraft and fosters the illusion that we are indeed witnessing a repertory traversal of "The Magic Flute" in a public venue. During the Overture, for example, we see the many faces in the audience, including a little girl (said to be Bergman's daughter) whose changing expression becomes the touchstone for onlooker-response during the two acts. On the other hand, we are aware that we are not really viewing some haphazard filming of a performance in the style of PBS at the Met. For the most part, Bergman takes us inside the action so that we forget the presence of stage and audience. So many details call out for notation. Notice how, by emphasizing a nod or a dirty look, Bergman conveys that the Three Ladies are not merely a girlish trio but resentment-driven servants of a resentment-driven Queen of the Night. Remark the gradual alteration of the Queen's appearance. Hågegård's bird-catcher surpasses any other know to me (and Bergman as director contributes mightily to the result). Ulrik Cold's Sarastro becomes a real and complicated person rather than the cardboard wiseman and lawgiver that he usually is. Swedish is as sinagble a language as Italian, with many feminine endings, so that the poetry strikes the ear as just as beautiful as the music. The English substitles are easy to follow and unobtrusive. One would have to be made of stone or wood not to laugh and cry by turns during the two hours and twenty minutes of this extraordinary film. Buy it for your children, especially if they are young. The dragon alone justifies the price of admission.
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69 of 75 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon June 11, 2000
Director Bergman has given us a charming film production of Mozart's Magic Flute that is set to be a modern-day staging of the opera in an small, old opera house. The staging is low-tech (no lasers) and represents what one may have seen when this fairy-tale opera was produced in the early 1800s. Shots of the stage action are interspersed with backstage scenes of characters reading, adjusting their costumes, etc.
This is a Magic Flute that draws you into its world. The staging in enjoyable but is no way distracting from the music. This is a nicely balanced "Flute" with the comedy of Papageno/Papagena very well played along the more serious scenes with Sarastro and the priests. It is a film version that both children and adults will like -- I saw it as a teen many years ago and have loved opera ever since.
This is definitely a DVD to own, though there really are no special features on DVD, other than the ability to switch the subtitles off (the opera is sung in Swedish). The sound on the DVD is very good, though the picture is not partcularly sharp. The DVD is well indexed, though, so it is easy to find favorite scenes.
A definite buy!
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43 of 45 people found the following review helpful
on December 9, 2005
I saw this film in 1975, three days after it opened in Boston. I had no idea it was an opera, but being a filmmaker I'd seen all of Bergman's films. I thought it was the most wonderfull thing I had ever heard and seen. Because of this film I have enjoyed a thirty year love affair with opera. I have this DVD and I watch it at least once a year. I have seen many versions of The Magic Flute, but this remains my favorite. If Mozart were alive I think he would agree.
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31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on January 20, 2003
The Magic Flute, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's last opera, is a multi-layered Singspiel opera that is accessible to children as well as adults. It is an allegory of good versus evil, layed with Freemason ideals, and scored by Mozart's most sublime music. Ingmar Bergman filmed a live performance in a Stockholm theater in Sweden. The singers are singing in Swedish, not its original German, and the camera provides glimpses of going ons backstage and shots of the audience, focusing especially on a red-haired girl who is deeply engaged in the opera. This way, Bergman makes opera a dramatic experience. At times, it feels as if we are not watching an opera at all, but a play. The Swedish cast is fresh, energetic and engages the audience in the fabulous story. The story should be familiar to opera buffs. Tamino, a lost prince, finds he has been commissioned to save a beautiful princess, Pamina, from the clutches of a supposed evil wizard, Sarastro, and return her to her mother the Queen of the Night. As the opera progresses, we discover that Tamino has been deceived and he is, in essence, "shown the light" of truth through the aid of the enlightened religious order of Sarastro's men. The Queen, Pamina's mother, is the villain, bent on dominating the earth, and Sarastro, Pamina's father, is a benevolent holy man who intendes to foil the dark queen's plans. The custody battle over Pamina is true to the Mozart allegory. He had Pamina represent Austria, Sarastro, the "father", was the wise ideals of Freemasonry, while the "mother" Queen of the Night is the suppression and censorship of Freemasonry by imperialist autocrats like the Empress Teresa, whom the Queen is modeled after.
Superb singing. The arias "Dies Bildnis", in which Tamino looks at a portrait of Pamina and falls in love, is well made. Papageno's character is sharply defined as comic, earthy and human. In this film, he wears no feathery costume or plumage, and is instead an actual human man with earthy appetites for food and lovemaking. The Queen of the Night's two arias "O Zittre Nicht" and "Der Holle Rache" are full of dramatic prowess and coloratura technique, both escalate to high F's. Pamina's "Ach Ich fuhls" which she sings in a backdrop of utter darkness, is melancholic and moving. Finally, Sarastro's character is divine, with a sonorous bass-baritone voice, and a final scene almost likens him to Jesus or God. As a bonus, this film presents us a view of the going-ons backstage during intermission. Tamino and Pamina play chess, the Queen of the Night puffs away on her cigar and Sarastro reads the manuscript to Wagner's opera Parsifal, all the while the interlude "March Of The Priests" plays in the background. This is superb performance, quality drama and on DVD, this is a must have for all opera fans who put opera DVDs on their collection.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
As the film opens with the overture, it focuses on the face of a beautiful child in the audience, and it is as if we see this fantastic production through her innocent eyes; it's an adaptation that captures all the playfulness and enchantment of Mozart's glorious last opera, and brings it to life with renewed vigor.
The attractive cast, though occasionally vocally uneven, is a total delight; Josef Kostlinger is superb as Tamino, Hakan Hagegard shines as Papageno, Ulrik Cold impressive as Sarastro, and Elisabeth Erikson is adorable as Papagena.
The sets, which sometimes seem to shift like smoke, as well as the costumes, are masterful, and include everything from lovable fuzzy creatures, to a brilliant vision of the "dark regions", with dancers writhing and wrestling as its tortured inhabitants.
I also enjoyed the backstage views during intermission; Tamino and Pamina playing chess, Sarastro looking over a score of Parsifal while a chorus member reads Kalle Ankas (a Donald Duck comic book), and especially the formerly fire-spewing dragon trudging past a doorway.
I never fully appreciated "The Magic Flute" until I watched this film; it's strange that Ingmar Bergman, more known for his somber films, should bring out so much light and joy from this magnificent opera.
It would make a perfect introduction for young people to opera, and the singing in Swedish seems quite natural and enjoyable (especially for us older folks who have listened to the great Jussi Bjorling for decades), and the subtitles are excellent and easily to read.
Those who like filmed opera, will surely find this to be an imaginative, wonderful production. Total running time is 135 minutes.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on August 1, 2001
Even if you do not care for opera, Bergman (known for his great movies "The Seventh Seal " full of many levels of meaning, artsy type movies, does a wonderful retelling of the classic. The Magic Flute (Die Zauberflote in its original German) is wonderfully captured in this film. It was made in the seventies and it is very apparent. Shot in a theatre and with a camera view of the audience and backstage, we see into the magic world of opera. For those of you getting initiated into the beauty of opera, this is a must have. Mozart's music is divine and tender, from the three sacred chords of the Overture and its following brilliant music, to the accompaniment of every duet, trio, aria and chorus. The Magic Flute, by Mozart libretto by Schnikeder, tells the story of the young price Tamino, deceived into believing he must rescue the beautiful Pamina, daughter of the Queen of the Night from the hands of the priest Sarastro, leader of a holy brotherhoold. In the end, we discover that things are not what they appear. Papageno, whose performance is delightful, is sure to capture your heart. Armed with bells and a magic flute, Tamino passes the tests of the priests and foils the wicked plans of the Queen of the Night. You will love the opera- from the Trio of the Three Dark Ladies in Act 1, the Queen's 1st aria "O Zittre Nicht Meine Lieber Sohn" Tamino's "Dies Bildnis" to the Act 2 chorus "O Isis and Osiris " Pamina's haunting "Ach Ich Fuhls" and the Queen's Vengeance Aria. Look for the comic bits during the Intermission.
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28 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on December 27, 1999
Having seen Magic Flute on stage, both in opera theaters and in open air venues, I knew how it had been treated in the past. Most productions come across as comic opera or Singspiel (song play) as they say Mozart intended when he composed Magic Flute. This production is spellbinding from the very beginning. Its treated as a serious search for truth, honor and fidelity with that perfect touch of humor. I have never been so charmed watching an opera in my life. I had a smile on my face from beginning to end. Especially well done are the subtitles. They are easy to see and follow with accurate translation and communication of the context of the words, which are sung and spoken in Swedish. The whispered lines and body language are some of the highlights of this production I have not heard or seen before. Highly recommended for young and old alike. A wonderful introduction to opera for anyone from 10 year old and upward. It is at the top of my list of recommended opera videos.
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32 of 38 people found the following review helpful
on June 3, 2000
Mozart's operatic explication of the mysteries of Freemasonry is part frat-house ritual, part custody dispute, and two parts love story. In the tradition of German 'singspiel', it combines the sung and spoken voice. The influence of grand opera on the tradition shows up in the mixture of aria and recitative in the sung portions. Mozart composed the music for a libretto in German by Emmanuel Schikaneder.
Ingmar Bergman's film of 'The Magic Flute' is one of the better attempts at tranfering an opera to the screen. In fact many claim it's the best, but I would argue with that. Certainly, it's in the top five, but I find the Harnoncourt/Ponnelle production of 'The Coronation of Poppea' superior. That however is my favorite opera so I may be prejudiced.
Bergman wisely avoided using a naturalistic setting such as Franco Zefferelli and Petr Weigl have used for their opera films. He retains the staginess of opera by presenting it as a performance before an audience (Ponnelle did the same a few years earlier). But he doesn't limit the view to what can be seen through the proscenium. He uses the techniques of cinema to keep the camera moving around the scenery and the singers. At intermission, he shows the performers backstage which itself is a performance (ie, it's not documentary footage). Occasionally, he appears to use location shots such as during Pamina's despair. Bergman keeps the viewer's eye active throughout.
I was doubtful about a film of 'The Magic Flute' sung in Swedish, but, for one who doesn't speak German, the difference is barely noticeable. If anything, Swedish is a more mellifluous language than German, and the result sounds rather Italianate. The singers are all good, and they look like their roles for the most part. The sound was pre-recorded, and Bergman had the singers perform to the music at half-voice during filming. The lip-sync is therefore perfect, not only in lip movement, but in spatial location as well. Boy sopranos sing the roles of the three angels.
During the overture, Bergman chose to show faces in extreme close-up of people of various ages and races as though they are the world audience. All reviews that I've seen say it's a great conceit, but I found it annoying and unimaginative. The shots of the little girl that pop up at random moments are particularly distracting. That Bergman would want to demonstrate that Mozart is for the whole world but at the same time translate into his own language seems contradictory.
I assume Criterion did their best with the available prints, but the film looks rather worn. The colors have faded, the picture is granular at times, and dropouts are frequently evident. The sound though is impeccable. The DVD has no extra materials; only the choice to turn the English subtitles on or off. I'm always annoyed when producers don't provide subtitles in the original language, but I'm not sure what that would be here, German or Swedish. In any case, the film frequently displays placards with the Swedish lyrics.
Despite my quibbles, it's a joyful and wonderful film, and the DVD is worth the price.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on January 28, 2005
Bergman is the one director great enough to have carried this off! The singing ranges from fresh to glorious, the singers are young and beautiful and look like they're enjoying themselves tremendously, and being able to sing (and act) in their own language adds much more than it subtracts. This is a brilliant performance, harmonious, respectful, but thoroughly alive, a real collaboration between the greatest of all composers and the greatest of all cinematographers!

(Special note to those with kids: No need to wait for opera to dawn on them someday in their twenties. The Bergman "Magic Flute" is accessible and wonderfully appealing. My kids, then 5 and 6, loved it from the first. Skeptical? Try it and see!)
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on July 25, 2005
Ingmar's Bergman's film of Mozart's opera The Magic Flute proves that film makers are not all complete narcissists: Bergman filmed a performance of Mozart's opera in a small Swedish opera house (and the performance is in Swedish, not the usual German) and he kept to the performance with laudable restraint. There are some wonderful shots of people in the audience as they wait for the curtain to go up, and the camera returns to one little girl several times during the action, but otherwise, what you see is the opera that the audience saw. It is a good staging and a lovely performance of a curiously moving opera that no one seems really to understand. The three children in a hot-air balloon, the good spirits, are especially moving.
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