The Magic Flute (1975) ****

March 11th, 2018
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir.: Ingmar Bergman; Josef Köstlinger, Irma Urilla, Ulrik Cold, Birgit Nordin; Sweden 1975, 135′.

Filmed opera is not always successful on the big screen, but director/writer Ingmar Bergman has made the right choices in his staging of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, with the libretto by Schikaneder. It was first performed in 1791 in Vienna, just weeks before the composer’s untimely death.

Bergman’s first decision was to rebuild the 18th century Drottningholm Palace Theatre in Stockholm on the soundstage of the TV studio. Secondly, he recorded the music before shooting, and with the actors/singers in lip-synchrony during the filmed performance itself, he achieved a vivid, naturalistic view of the Paleolithic world shown. Furthermore, the camera often pans into the audience, to picture the director, his son Daniel and the actress Ingrid Bergman. A young girl also catches our attention: her face mirrors all the actions on the stage. In staying faithful to the (not always) perfect libretto, Bergman conveys the wonderland of the theatre – as seen by the audience of the 18th century – with all its improbabilities.

After the overture the curtain opens and we see Tamino (Köstlinger) being chased by a dragon – not a particularly fearsome one – but Tamino does not ruffle his fur. Saved by three female servants of the Queen of Night – whilst Tamino believes that Papageno is his saviour – our hero sets out to liberate Princess Pamina (Urrila), daughter of the Queen of Night (Nordin), from the clutches of her father, Sarastro (Cold), who leads a masonic order. The Queen is immediately shown for what she is: smoking in the backdrops languidly under a “Non Smoking” sign. Three little boys in a balloon accompany Tamino on his journey to Sarastro’s castle, always encouraging the hero to stay brave and steadfast – something the audience can relate to – after his meek performance with the dragon. Sarastro sets Tamino three tasks, but only if he successfully finishes all of them, can he marry Pamina. The Queen of the Night flies into a rage and sings “The vengeance of hell boils over in my heart”, reminding us of a good old-fashioned horror queen. Her outburst is quiet appropriate, since Tamino has to visit the underworld, where people tear each other up. The monsters that occasional turns are furry animals, very much like Maurice Sendak’s creatures in ‘Where the wild things are”.
In the style of of Autumn Sonata and parts of Fanny and Alexander, Bergman shows his mastery of filmed theatre. The dominant feeling is a childlike enjoyment, a playful naivety, which is supported by Sven Nykvist’s cinematography. This Magic Flute is a celebration of the magic of theatre, caught by a director and DoP fondly remembering their childhood. AS


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