Papageno and Pamino

Ben Davis as Papageno and Joseph Kaiser as Pamino

Sir Kenneth Branagh’s film adaptation of Mozart’s singspiel Die Zauberflöte was created in 2006 during Mozart’s 250th birthday year celebration. To date it has received limited screenings in Europe and Canada (at the Toronto film festival), but not in the United States. On June 9, it is scheduled to screen at about 150 Emerging Pictures theaters across the country with additional screenings on June 11. Branagh will take questions in a live session with audiences, webcasted from London, following the Sunday screening.

British actor Stephen Fry made an English language adaptation of Emanuel Schikaneder’s libretto. Presenting a Verdi or Wagner opera is unthinkable, but it is entirely appropriate for the Magic Flute, which after all, is intended to be popular entertainment. Unlike the 1975 TV adaptation of the Magic Flute by Ingmar Bergman which features Stepford Wives acting along with subpar singing in a traditional setting, Fry has updated the story from 1791 to World War I. The overture, conducted by James Conlon, is performed over a crane shot of a trench battle. There are some wonderful images that this setting enables. Pamino is pursued by not by a serpent, but by a CGI cloud of poison gas. The Queen of the Night makes her entrance standing on top of a rolling tank, and in one memorable shot, it appears that background tanks are emerging from her mouth as she sings.

The singer/actors were carefully chosen by Branagh not only for their vocal ability, but also if they fit his conception of what the roles “should” look like. For the most part I think he has succeeded. Amy Carson as Pamina and Joseph Kaiser as Pamino are pretty much the mental images I’ve had for these roles too. The Queen of the Night is sung wonderfully by Lyubov Petrova, who has no trouble at all with those high Fs in both of her big arias. However, I think this role should have a menacing imposing appearance, whereas Petrova comes across as young and cute. René Pape as Sarastro and Tom Randle as Monostatos are spot on. Ben Davis is suitably goofy as Papageno as is Silvia Moi as the young Papagena. The older Papagena is played by veteran actor Liz Smith.

For screening information, go to emergingpictures.com

It is playing locally at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute on June 8.

“The Magic Flute” is a Revolver Entertainment release, a French-English co-production between Idéale Audience and The Peter Moores Foundation, produced by Pierre-Olivier Bardet and Simon Moseley.

Of course, the most frightening Queen of the Night has to be this 8 year old girl.