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Monday, June 17, 2013

THE MAGIC FLUTE / DIE ZAUBERFLOTE (1975)

While the past two decades have seen a revolution in both Opera-on-Film and in capturing Live Opera Performance, nothing has yet to approach this enchantment. Ingmar Bergman filmed his adaptation of Mozart’s MAGIC FLUTE as if you were watching (and occasionally inside) a period staging. And, unlike many other versions, Bergman never puts his ideas in competition against Mozart. With unerring shot placements, Bergman can't put a foot wrong, a real pleasure next to the catch-as-catch-can ‘live captures.’ Made on a small budget for Swedish Television (hence the 1.33:1 aspect ratio), Sven Nykvist belies the limitations of shooting with a 16mm negative, finding a rich, detailed palette that easily accommodates the story’s quick mood changes. And there’s a lot of them since the story makes a still fascinating pivot about halfway thru when steadfast Tamino, on a mission to rescue Pamina for the Queen of the Night, discovers he’s working for the bad guys . . .er, girls. Bergman clarifies the story by identifying the noble ruler Sarastro as Pamina’s father, but otherwise sticks closely to the original (trimmed) libretto. Only two of the singers (the opera is sung in a pleasing Swedish) had international careers, Ragnar Ulfung, the threatening Monostatos, and a wonderful Håkan Hagegård, in a staggeringly successful charm-offensive as the Papageno of your dreams. But everyone, holding largely to a conversational tone, is lovingly cast, none more so than the three boy-soprano genii. Talk about an enchantment!

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY-I: The Criterion edition is from 2000 and could certainly use an upgrade. Taken from a 35mm transfer print, there’s more ‘crackle’ then you expect and even two of three visible tears, though the basic color density seems about right. Surely a restoration from the original 16mm negative would improve things? (Come on Swedish tv, get in those archives!) And hopefully, when the inevitable Blu-Ray does come along, they’ll remember to ‘stage’ the placement of the subtitles to match Bergman’s endearing use of placards for some of the catchy aphorisms.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY-II: How many catchy tunes is one singspiel allowed to have?

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