Trollflöjten (1975)

MAGIC FLUTE, THE (Trollflöjten) TV

(director/writer: Ingmar Bergman; screenwriters: based on the opera Die Zauberflšte by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Emanuel Schikaneder; cinematographer: Sven Nykvist; editor: Siv Lundgren; music: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; cast: Ulrik Cold (Sarastro), Josef Kostlinger (Tamino), Erik Saeden (The Speaker), Birgit Nordin (Queen of the Night), Irma Urrila (Pamina), Håkan Hagegård (Papageno), Elisabeth Erikson (Papagena); Runtime: 135; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Måns Reuterswärd; The Criterion Collection; 1975-Sweden-in Swedish with English subtitles)
“It’s as pleasing to look at as hear.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Probably the best operatic film ever made, even though it’s merely a straightforward presentation (for the most part) rather than a great cinematic effort. It’s as pleasing to look at as hear. Ingmar Bergman films in a conventional way a live version of The Magic Flute opera for Swedish TV and captures the idealistic imagery of Mozart, but adds on plenty of audience reaction shots from an audience that looks like a diversified UN gathering, repeatedly films an apple-cheeked young girl viewer whose facial expressions exude pure joy (these shots soon became grating), backstage intrigues of the singers involving mostly gags and of them acting as their characters while on a break, and he stages it in an 18th century theater decked out with spectacular sets. Bergman aims to popularize the opera with his antics, which don’t always work. In fact, it somewhat sabotages the opera. Nevertheless, the overall effect is a lively and stunning version of the Mozart opera in Swedish.

The opera has two acts composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and the libretto is by the German Shakespearean thespian Emanuel Schikaneder. It’s in the form of a Singspiel, which includes both singing and spoken dialogue. The opera, usually done in German, premiered in Vienna on September 30, 1791. It was not well received at first, but soon caught on with the public due to good business promotion by Schikaneder. Mozart passed away on December 5, 1791, and never saw it for the great success it became. Though Mozart’s best opera is considered to be Don Giovanni, this one has been performed the most in modern times and has appeal among the masses for being so romantic.

The opera is a mix of comedy and fairy tale romance involving the perfect romantic couple Prince Tamino and Pamina. In Act One, Tamino is instructed by the Queen of the Night to rescue her daughter Pamina from the sorcerer Sarastro, but he’s seduced by Sarastro and joins his mystical priesthood. The brotherhood members are the guardians of such virtues as truth, beauty, and wisdom. Act Two has the Queen of the Night turn into a villain and sings her famous aria calling for vengeance on Sarastro.

The story itself is filled with propaganda for Freemasonry. The Wikipedia Encyclopedia offers this info: “Both Schikaneder and Mozart were Masons and lodge brothers. In the political climate of the times, Freemasonry was considered a dangerous organization. Many of the opera’s ideas and motifs also echo those of Enlightenment philosophy: It is an analogy to the zeitgeist enlightened absolutism. The Queen of the Night represents the irrational-diabolic obscurantism, her antagonist Sarastro symbolizes the reasonable sovereign who rules with paternalistic wisdom and enlightened insight. In the end he prevails over the darkness (The sun’s rays drive away the night, destroy the evil power of the dissembler). But the darkness is by no means frightening and abhorrent, but beautiful, mysterious and fascinating. As an awesome seductress the Queen of the Night is a dangerous power who can only be overcome by knowledge.”

The singers were all terrific. Håkan Hagegård as the clownish Papageno, the handsome Tamino’s traveling companion, distinguishes himself well in offering comic relief while remaining robust so as never to become a buffoon. The romantic couple have great voices and look the part of beautiful lovers. For those not enamored with opera, this is a good place to give it a chance. While opera lovers should be pleased with this fine production.