One of the more charming operatic productions of the 1970s makes its belated American television debut tonight at 8:30 on the Arts & Entertainment cable network: the 1978 production of Mozart's "The Magic Flute" from England's Glyndebourne Festival.
For half a century, Glyndebourne has been a standard-setter in the production and performance of Mozart's operas. Audio recordings of some of its early productions, dating from the 78 rpm era, are still prized by some opera lovers. The video recordings now reaching the public will probably face stronger competition -- an outstanding "Magic Flute" from Salzburg has already been seen on American television -- but this one can hold its own in any company.
With Bernard Haitink conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the Glyndebourne Chorus and a well-chosen cast, this performance would do well in a purely audio recording. But a large part of the interest lies in the designs of one of England's leading painters, David Hockney, who also designed a striking "The Rake's Progress" for Glyndebourne. For "The Magic Flute," his assignment included design of a dragon and various other monsters as well as some unusual costumes and scenery. When the production was originally reviewed in the British press, Hockney's designs got as much critical praise as the performance.
Still, Leo Goeke is a properly dashing and romantic Tamino, Benjamin Luxon is a charming and earthy Papageno, while Felicity Lott and May Sandoz fill the roles of Pamina and the Queen of Night impressively.
This is a "Magic Flute" well worth knowing. It will be repeated at 12:30 tonight and 2 p.m. Sunday. Those who want to make it a permanent acquisition can purchase it in the Beta or VHS format from Video Arts International.