The Magic Flute

Ingmar Bergman directs this theatre/film hybrid of Mozart’s legendary opera.

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The plot centres on Tamino (Josef Köstlinger), fulltime hero and part time flautist, in his quest to return the lovely Pamina (Urma Urilla) from High Priest Sarastro (Ulrik Cold). So it’s a bit like Conan the Barbarian, but while Conan ultimately beheads Thulsa Doom, Tamino comes round to Sorastro’s way of thinking and turns his wrath on the Queen of the Night (Birgit Nordin), who originally hired him for the job.

To aid him on his quest, Tamino is gifted a magic flute which enchants those who hear it, pied piper style. And he’s accompanied by the loyal but simple Papageno (Håkan Hagegård), who’s basically Samwise Gamgee, with Rosie Cotton replaced by the far more conveniently named Papagena.

Made at a time before live broadcasts of opera to cinemas were commonplace, The Magic Flute seeks to show a traditional operatic production in a cinematic way. The Overture is accompanied by close-ups of wide-eyed viewers to give us a sense of the performance being for a live audience.

But with frequent cuts, various camera angles, as well as lightning fast changes in costume and scenery, it’s also clear that this was made for film. As a result one has to assume that the music was overlayed, rather than sung live, even though it never looks like the artists are lip-syncing.

There are some incredible vocal performances from professional singers, something it’s rare to find in the amateur hour quality of many modern celebrity-filled musicals. As a result Bergman perfectly captures the quality of Mozart’s opera in a form he would recognise, while adding occasional flashes of humour and self-awareness which give it a contemporary edge. That’s magic.

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Animals (not to scale)

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