Perhaps I should say film adaptations. There are many fine “filmed” Zauberflöte productions available. I will be looking at some of these in later reviews. But the two films I want to explore here use the medium to do more with the opera than just provide a record of a stage production.
A somewhat radical take on The Magic Flute is the version adapted and directed by Kenneth Branagh with an english libretto by Stephen Fry. I will be writing my thoughts on this film in a later post. The subject of this post is the adaptation by Ingmar Bergman.
I saw Ingmar Bergman’s “Trollflöjten” shortly after its US theatrical release in November, 1975. The film was originally made for Swedish television and premiered there on new year’s day of the same year. It is not an exaggeration to say that this viewing is the reason I now have a web-site dedicated to this opera. It was through this film that I discovered The Magic Flute. Even though it was over thirty years ago I can remember the sense of absolute enchantment I felt then. Yes, it is in Swedish. And, yes, liberties have been taken with the story. But this film is still one of the best (arguably, the best) filmed versions of The Magic Flute.
Bergman wanted to bring to the screen a feeling of what it would have been like to have seen the original production and so sets the film on the stage of the Drottningholm Palace Theatre, a beautiful baroque-era opera house in Stockholm. Well, that is, he wanted to. But the interior and stage machinery of the theater was, at that time, considered too fragile to host a film crew so the production was done in an accurate reproduction of the theater in the studios of the Swedish Film Institute. The film is the stage production. But Bergman shows us more than just the actors on the stage. The camera cuts occasionally to the audience, particularly one small child (in fact, Bergman’s daughter) and lets their expressions accent the emotions of the narrative. And we are also occasionally allowed a peek backstage to see stage hands work the set machinery and actors wait for their entrance. And have you ever wondered what happens between the acts? In a tour behind the curtain Bergman shows us and there are a few surprises.
All of this results in a magical experience that will satisfy those new to the opera (in fact this is a great way for those of you who are afraid of opera to acquaint yourself with what the medium can achieve) and will provide new insights for those of you who are already familiar with the story. For example, Bergman makes it clear that Pamina is also Sarastro’s daughter. This puts in place a whole new dynamic in the relationship between the Queen and Sarastro.
If you haven’t seen this beautiful adaptation of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, get the Criterion DVD, take your seat, dim the lights and experience the magic.
Not convinced? Here is a short clip that shows a bit of what I mean. Tamino has just tamed the wild animals with his flute playing. Notice that when Papageno answers on his pipes that he and Pamina are sitting on a ladder behind the stage. You’ll have to see for yourself what causes the expression of delight on the girl in the audience when Papageno and Pamina begin running to Tamino. (I’ll give you a hint. It has to do with some really cool late 18th century special effects.)
This is from the Criterion DVD “Ingmar Bergman’s The Magic Flute” (CRITERION COLLECTION 71, ASIN 0780023080). Sung in Swedish with English subtitles.
 A production of Die Zauberflöte was filmed in the Drottingholm Palace Theater in 1989. The Drottningholm Court Theater Orchestra is lead by Arnold Östman. The cast includes Stefan Dahlberg (Tamino), Mikael Samuelson (Papageno), Ann Christine Biel (Pamina), Birgit Louise Frandsen (Königen der Nacht), and Laszlo Polgar (Sarastro). This is a solid performance and well worth a listen. And it looks great. The DVD is on the Image Entertainment label no. ID9309RADVD.