Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Up-coming: Kenneth Branagh’s The Magic Flute

This Sunday, June 9th, selected U.S. theaters will screen a movie version of The Magic Flute directed by Kenneth Branagh. Though the film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2006, it has apparently never been shown or distributed in the U.S. The opera is relocated to a World War I battlefield, & the story's triumph of love is equated with the arrival of world peace.

The movie is restless, every moment packed with fanciful visual concepts, & Branagh makes liberal use of digital trickery. The overture is one long computer-generated tracking shot that snakes through trenches, across a battlefield, & into a sky full of biplanes doing barrel rolls. Papagena seamlessly transforms from an old woman into a teenager while walking across a room, & the Queen of the Night can zip around the sky like Wonder Woman. At times it's like watching a pinball machine. The sets look enormous & seem to be peopled with hundreds of multiracial extras. There's plenty of gratuitous silliness as well, such as the Whac-A-Mole choreography when the Three Ladies harass Tamino & Papageno during their trials.

The film is cast with attractive singers who look their parts. They all give free & spontaneous acting performances, sometimes bordering on slapstick. I liked the bright & fervent singing of tenor Joseph Kaiser as Tamino. His diction is impressively clear. Bass René Pape, with his warm voice, is a benevolent & fatherly Sarastro. He also sings the Speaker's music. Soprano Amy Carson is a steely-voiced & feisty Pamina. Soprano Lyubov Petrova's Queen of the Night gets a terrific entrance standing atop a tank, & her coloratura is aggressive & powerful. Tenor Tom Randle makes a smooth, pleasing sound & is a rather urbane Monostatos. The Papageno of Ben Davis is appropriately goofy. I laughed at the clucking chicken that accompanies his duet with Papagena.

The opera is sung in English, in a contemporary, straight-forward translation by Stephen Fry. The dialogue sections have been trimmed to a minimum. James Conlon conducts the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, & the playing is brisk, extroverted, & bright.

Here in SF, The Magic Flute plays at the Vogue on June 9th at 10am. A live webcast with Kenneth Branagh answering viewers' questions follows the screening. For those who can't make it, the DVD will be released June 11th.

§ The Magic Flute (2006)
France, UK. 134 mins.

Director: Kenneth Branagh
Libretto adapted by: Stephen Fry

Chamber Orchestra of Europe
Music Arranged and Conducted by James Conlon

Queen of the Night: Lyubov Petrova
Sarastro: René Pape
Monostatos: Tom Randle
Tamino: Joseph Kaiser
Pamina: Amy Carson
Papageno: Ben Davis
First Lady: Teuta Koco
Second Lady: Louise Callinan
Third Lady: Kim-Marie Woodhouse
Papagena (young): Silvia Moi
Papagena (older): Liz Smith

§ The Vogue
Sun. June 9, 2013 – 10am
Live webcast with Kenneth Branagh in London following the screening

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