Unrated, 1986, in French without subtitles, 50 minutes, Home Vision, $29.95.
This brief, ostensibly simple opera, which some critics consider Maurice Ravel's finest composition, deals with a child's temper tantrum and the dawning realization that such thoughtless behavior can be terribly destructive. The libretto, by the novelist Colette, evokes the world of childhood powerfully -- not only its vivid imagination but the volatile intensity of its emotions. "L'Enfant et les Sortile`ges" is not as familiar as its quality merits, undoubtedly because of the high production costs for what cannot be more than half of a standard evening's entertainment. This exquisite production by the Nederlands Dans Theater keeps costs low and quality high by using the definitive 1961 Deutsche Grammophon recording, conducted by Lorin Maazel with some of France's finest singers, to supply the music for Jiri Kylian's brilliant choreography. However it might work in the theater, the effect is perfect in home video. For more than a quarter-century the Maazel recording has been nearly ideal except for its lack of a visual dimension. Now, it has everything. The visuals are effective enough to give a fair idea of what is happening, but the lack of subtitles will deprive many listeners of some fine subtleties of wit and pathos. Those who appreciate finesse at its highest levels will find it worthwhile to purchase a score or libretto.