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Branagh's Flute

Three Ladies and Tamino, The Magic Flute, directed by Kenneth Branagh, at left
Three Ladies and Tamino, The Magic Flute (2006), directed by Kenneth Branagh, at left
Ionarts has been following the course of Kenneth Branagh's first foray into opera, a film adaptation of Mozart's The Magic Flute. Stephen Fry adapted the libretto as an English screenplay, René Pape sings Sarastro, and Lyubov Petrova the Queen of the Night. The movie opened in France on December 13. In his review (La Flûte enchantée, December 13) for Le Monde, Thomas Sotinel calls Branagh "a Shakespearean actor and uneven director" and dismisses the movie in a single paragraph (my translation):
The digital special effects tricks and the Broadway numbers (on the screen only: on the soundtrack the score is perfectly respected) attempt to give some substance to the direction's hypothesis which falls short. Of course, one can close one's eyes, but one can also stay home and listen to one of the benchmark recordings of Magic Flute.
Dominique Borde is more impressed in the review (Quoi de neuf ? Mozart, December 13) for Le Figaro (my translation):
The viewer hesitates and succombs, seduced or disoriented before having the time to think about it. From the high-flying to the burlesque, Branagh is having serious fun with Mozart. His ardor and creativity are always there, like the destructive game of a brat who would break his electric train to transform it into a rocket. The voices of Amy Carson, of Benjamin Jay Davis, or René Pape take hold of us and envelop us. Music lovers will be won over at once, movie lovers perhaps will be blown away by the direction, the harmonious cuts, without daring to admit even slight boredom.
Branagh, who speaks French (with a fairly good accent, as evinced by a scene in Henry V), gave an interview with Marie-Noëlle Tranchant (Kenneth Branagh : « un rêve d'harmonie », December 13) for Le Figaro. Here are a few excerpts: (my translation):
How did you get the idea to transpose this story to the time of the First World War?

A moment of intuition. It came to me while I was searching for how to tell this story in such a way that the audience would be overtaken by real suspense. I have always been passionate about World War I. And I am particularly fascinated by the moment that preceded it, the atmosphere of weapons being prepared. I recall a book, Bird Song, written by one of those poet-soldiers, as there were in World War I. The sense of the world's beauty and the nearness of its destruction is a vision that is infinitely poignant for me. I wanted to find that in the overture: calm and splendid nature and then destruction. With the presence of the four elements (air, earth, water, fire), which were very important for Mozart. And I wanted Tamino to be something like those poet-soldiers, at once sensitive and brave. That seemed to me to correspond to the spirit of The Magic Flute, composed by Mozart when he knew he was ill. A sort of meditation on life and death, serious under its light and brilliant surface, moved by a deep desire for peace or, more musically speaking, harmony. [...]

The shift into English and into the time of World War I must have meant a considerable reworking of the libretto. What are the principal changes?

First of all it meant a deeper development of the story of the couple Tamino and Pamina. We have to believe in their love at first sight, in their love when they have been separated. We see them more often on the screen than on stage, and we have flirted with the cinematographical themes of the thunderbolt, the dance, glamor. Pamina becomes a vamp romanesque. But the most important change involved getting rid of the Masonic dimension of The Magic Flute. In the film, that all becomes more of a pacifist movement, much less specific. [...]

You were not afraid of angering the purists?

I think it is healthy to produce versions of classic masterpieces that lend themselves to controversy. That keeps them alive.
James Conlon conducts the Chamber Orchestra of Europe and the chorus Apollo Voices. The film's American release has not been set. I cannot make any sense out of the film's official Web site.


jfl said...
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jfl said...

the website is kind of nifty. you can listen to some of the music, explore (mostly silly) little games section by section... a couple in each act... interviews, miscellany... odd but intriguing, which I suppose must be the point. As the music plays, a scene from the film is revealed.

Charles T. Downey said...

I played around with it for a while, too. It's fun, but not very informative.

Anonymous said...

That website's insanely frustrating. I spent the whole time obsessively going over it, square by square, in the hopes of finding something interesting (only to discover that if you press the little question mark in the corner, it gives you a list of all of the activities. Grr) but this site, , has clips and pictures. I really hope that this comes out in the States (soon) because I really want to see it!