The Magic Flute (1975 film)

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The Magic Flute
Magic flute.jpg
Directed by Ingmar Bergman
Produced by Måns Reuterswärd
Written by Emanuel Schikaneder
Alf Henrikson
Ingmar Bergman
Starring Josef Köstlinger
Irma Urrila
Håkan Hagegård
Ulrik Cold
Music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Cinematography Sven Nykvist
Production
company
Distributed by Sveriges Radio/TV2/AB Svensk Filmindustri (Sweden)
Gaumont (France)
Surrogate Films (US, former)
Janus Films/Criterion Collection (US, current)
Release dates 1 January 1975 (1975-01-01)
Running time 135 min
Country Sweden
Language Swedish

The Magic Flute (Swedish: Trollflöjten) is Ingmar Bergman's 1975 film version of Mozart's opera Die Zauberflöte. It was intended as a television production and was first shown on Swedish television on 1 January 1975, but was followed by a cinema release later that year. The film was shown at the 1975 Cannes Film Festival, but was not entered into the main competition.[1] The film is notable as the first made-for-television film (and filmed in then-standard 1:1.33 television aspect ratio) with a stereo soundtrack.[2]

Background[edit]

Bergman first saw the Mozart opera at the Royal Opera in Stockholm when he was 12 and hoped then to recreate it in his marionette theatre at home.[3] The Magic Flute remained a love for him throughout his life, and at one stage he hoped to direct a production at the Malmö City Theater.[3]

During the 1960s Magnus Enhörning, head of the Swedish Radio, asked Bergman for possible projects and the director replied "I want to do The Magic Flute for television". Enhörning readily agreed and supported the project without hesitation.[3]

The characters of Frid and Petra in Bergman's 1955 film Smiles of a Summer Night, and Johan and Alma in his Hour of the Wolf (1968) pre-figure his conception of Papageno and Papagena, and Tamino and Pamina respectively in The Magic Flute.[4] The latter film includes a puppet-theatre sequence of part of Act 1 of the opera.[4]

Bergman changed certain details from the plot of the opera; Sarastro is Pamina's father, trios in Act 2 are omitted and "Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen" (or, "En god och trogen maka" in Swedish) is sung by Papageno before he sees Papagena. Instead of his usual plumage of feathers, Papageno wears conventional clothing.[4] Bergman also draws a parallel between Sarastro and Amfortas in Parsifal (at one point he is seen studying Wagner's score).[4]

For a conductor Bergman asked his friend Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt, but he flatly refused. The renowned choir conductor Eric Ericson also declined at first but was later persuaded by Bergman to take it on.[3]

The film had its first screening in the old barn at Bergman's house on Fårö (which had just been transformed into a cinema) one August evening in 1974.[5]

Cast[edit]

Style[edit]

Bergman constantly reminds the viewer that this is a theatrical event, repeatedly showing the audience. As the overture begins, a close-up shot of the face of a young girl (in fact, Ingmar Bergman's daughter) fills the screen. Gradually this gives way to close-ups of a multitude of faces in the audience – faces of many races, ages, classes. The young girl from the overture reappears frequently, cut into the action on stage and reacting to those events; her facial expressions often express the mood of the music as it moves from lighter to darker.

As scenes change, so the mechanics of the theatre reveal themselves; day turns to night as the Queen of the Night arrives and, from the point of view of an audience member, we witness the shifting backcloths moving to create the new scene. Similarly, when Papagena and Papageno joyously discover each other in a winter landscape, the chiming of the magic bells theatrically turns the scenery from Winter into Spring while the two characters remove portions of each other’s winter garments.

Furthermore, throughout the performance and during the intermission, we get backstage views of the theatre. Tamino plays his flute while, through the wings, we catch sight of Papageno (responding to Tamino's flute) and Pamina for, at this stage in the plot, they [Pamina and Tamino] have not yet met. The opposite happens when Pamina and Papageno are on stage and, this time, it is Tamino who is seen sitting on a ladder in the wings responding to Papageno's pan flute. Earlier, when Papageno sings his first aria, we see Papagena appear from the rafters, but at this stage, they too have not yet met.

During the intermission, Sarastro's men gather on the stage chatting. Sarastro himself (Ulrik Cold out of character - he wears glasses) sits reading the score of Parsifal (at the time, Ulrik Cold was rehearsing for the recording of that particular opera) while the camera pans to one of Monastatos’ henchmen (a young boy in dark makeup and jester's costume) reading a Donald Duck comic book. The Queen of the Night (Birgit Nordin) and the Three Ladies smoke cigarettes (right in front of a "Smoking Forbidden" sign) and read some magazines, while Nordin has her makeup applied for the 2nd aria; another of Monostatos' henchmen joins in. Yet another of Monostatos' henchmen observes Pamina and Tamino (Irma Urrila and Josef Köstlinger) playing chess in the dressing room. Finally, as the curtain is about to rise for Act 2, another of Monostatos' henchmen peers through a low peephole in the curtain and he is joined by Sarastro who peeps through a higher one. Throughout, we are constantly reminded of the mechanics of the “show” we are witnessing.

However, the film is also very cinematic. There is an emphasis on close-ups of the singers, but the mechanics of cinema also allow for manipulations of time and space. For example, prior to Papageno’s first entry, there is a cut to Håkan Hagegård (Papageno's actor) backstage in his dressing room. Suddenly, to be ready for his cue, he jumps up out of his bed and rushes to the wings where he plays the appropriate chord on his pipe, is then helped into his birdcage by a stagehand (dressed as one of the bats Tamino encounters later on in Act 1), and finally makes the appropriate entrance to find Tamino. Later, as Tamino looks at the locket containing Pamina’s picture for the 2nd time, she comes alive inside the locket with the ominous face of Monastatos glimpsed over her shoulder, foreshadowing a possible problem. Equally cinematic are the obvious “real” scenes taking place in the snow, which could not be realistically created on stage.

Both theatre and cinema are important in the final minute of the film: each part of the action seamlessly dissolves into the other, as the camera pulls back, first to witness Pamina and Tamino in an embrace that, in turn, gives way to a theatrical backdrop falling into place. Then the backward moving camera (taking us further and further from the action on stage) shows us Papagena and Papageno also kissing. The couple is circled by a group of small children (possibly the little Papagenas and Papagenos lyrically imagined a few moments before) until the camera pulls back further to reveal the proscenium arch and a dissolve takes us to the final drop of the curtain and the rise of the audience’s applause.

Behind the scenes[edit]

The sound was not actually recorded in sync with the photography. The singers pre-recorded their parts and then lip-synced to the music, which was played back as they performed.

According to film historian Peter Cowie’s notes for the DVD release of the film,[2] Bergman wanted to recreate as closely as possible the original 1791 production in the Theater auf der Wieden in Vienna. He had hoped that the film could be shot in the historic Drottningholm Palace Theatre, one of the few surviving Baroque theatres in the world, and the introductory exterior shots of the film suggest that this is where the opera is filmed. However, the scenery at Drottningholm "was considered too fragile to accommodate a film crew. So the stage – complete with wings, curtains, and wind machines – was painstakingly copied and erected in the studios of the Swedish Film Institute".[2]

Influence on the Branagh version[edit]

Thirty-one years later, Kenneth Branagh's 2006 film version followed Bergman's version in several important details: Sarastro is Pamina's father, Monostatos is not afraid of Papageno, and Monostatos commits suicide at the end.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Festival de Cannes: The Magic Flute". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved 4 May 2009. 
  2. ^ a b c Peter Cowie's essay on The Magic Flute film on criterian.com Retrieved 12 November 2012
  3. ^ a b c d The Magic Flute - Mozart's opera set in a mock-up version of the Drottningholm Theatre; from Bergman web-page, accessed 10 January 2014.
  4. ^ a b c d Evidon, Richard. Bergman and 'The Magic Flute'. The Musical Times, Vol. 117, No. 1596 (February 1976), pp. 130-131.
  5. ^ The three o’clock rite: Ingmar Bergman’s home cinema accessed 10 January 2014.

External links[edit]