Ingmar Bergman (director)
BFI Film (studio)
23 April 2018 (released)
25 April 2018
Top and prodigiously prolific Swedish director Ingmar Bergman's 1974 version of Mozart's last (and for many a favourite) opera THE MAGIC FLUTE is a real treat for many of this prodigious and prolific composer's admirers.
Some would say Bergman was a genius - possibly many more would say the same of Mozart; arguably the most joyous and uplifting of any classical composer. An infant prodigy, who died at the pathetically early age of 37, he produced 41 symphonies, 25 piano concertos, numerous operas and the list goes on and on… Simply no other known composer in history could produce like him. Small wonder then that a director like Bergman should want to make a film of Mozart's most fantastical of operas. It is perhaps because of this element that Bergman’s adaptation may appeal even to the not overly operatically inclined. However, who knows after watching (and listening) to this imminently approachable film you may be tempted to seek out more of Mozart and even glimpse the 'heavier' stuff. The main delight with the Salzburg genius is that he was never too 'heavy' - a positive plus for the uninitiated. Going into a detailed plot description would take up twice as much space as there is allotted in this column, so let’s try and keep things in a nutshell:
The overture displays merely an array of faces – assumed audience members of which the face of a young girl is repeatedly shown throughout the film. Liner notes inform that it is one Helene Friberg – these days involved in the annual ‘Bergmann week’ at the Baltic Sea island of Farö. In truth it would have to be an exceptionally bright (rather like Mozart himself) child who could sit through a 137 minutes of opera but we see the point. For his film, Bergman used the famous Drottningholm Theatre in Stockholm that he felt most resembled the Vienna stage where the opera was first premiered. Fortunately not all of the action is on stage (that would have been stifling) – some scenes show the performers backstage during intervals.
At the beginning of Act 1, our hero Tamino (Josef Kostlinger, tenor) is being chased across the stage by a rather silly and harmless looking dragon and is rescued by three ladies who hand him a magic medallion with a portrait of the Princess Pamina (Irma Urrila, soprano) inside. Tamino is immediately smitten by the picture when her mother, the Queen of Night (Birgit Nordin, soprano) appears and tells him that Pamina is being held captive in High Priest Sarastro's (Ulrik Cold, bass) court. Obviously he will have to go there and rescue her. He takes with him his new friend, the bird catcher Papageno (internationally renowned baritone Hakan Hagegard) who is around to supply the comic relief. They are also offered the support of three young sprites (boys) to aid them in their quest. On meeting the powerful Sarastro, Tamino is given a number of tasks to win Pamina's hand. Things are not that easy with Sarastro's discontented moor servant Monostatus (a blacked up Ragner Ulung, tenor) set to make things more difficult and a little more duplicity coming closer from home. Do look up the plot.
The singing is obviously of high quality tough some may find the lead soprano’s voice too high-pitched and that many trills, as in the great 'Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen' can 'grate' on certain ears. Who could write an opera with so many memorable tunes, in particular the duet between Papagena and Papageno. The sets and costumes are in turns delightfully playful and fantastically sinister.
This Dual Format edition offers various bonus features including the 11 min silhouette animation PAPSGENO (1935) by German Lotte Reiniger as well as a few extra curiosities such as a travelogue by aristo Lady Dunn, the famous racehorse owner, and more.