Screening in select U.S. theaters on Sunday, June 9, and Tuesday, June 11, Kenneth Branagh's The Magic Flute transforms Mozart's opera into a true cinematic experience.
Branagh is also scheduled to participate in a question-and-answer session after the screening on Sunday, live via webcast from London. Among other questions, he might be asked, "What took so long?" The film enjoyed a simultaneous world premiere at the Toronto and Venice film festivals in September 2006, timed to coincide with the 250th anniversary of Mozart's birth. Subsequently it was released in multiple territories, including Canada and England, but not the U.S.
Now Emerging Pictures, a company that specializes in delivering specialty films and "alternate content" (opera, ballet) to a network of participating theaters, has secured theatrical screenings, however limited. And Revolver Entertainment will release the film on DVD and make it available via various Video On Demand providers on Tuesday, June 11.
Ingmar Bergman made the first and most famous screen version of The Magic Flute for television in 1975; two animated versions followed before Branagh took on the challenge. Stephen Fry wrote a new English-language libretto. Admittedly, my knowledge of opera is more limited than Bugs Bunny and/or Elmer Fudd in Chuck Jones' What's Opera, Doc?, but, watching the film in advance on DVD, I was quickly caught up by the beauty of Mozart's music, the amazing vocals by a cast of well-trained opera singers, and Branagh's staging, which is fluid and dynamic.
Within Branagh's directorial ouevre, the film falls in the period when he was making As You Like It and before Sleuth. In its bold color palette, it's a partner with As You Like It; on both, Branagh worked with cinematographer Roger Lanser, who collaborated with him on several films in the early 1990s. The highly-stylized atmosphere is augmented by digital imagery that probably wasn't state of the art, even in 2006, but, nonetheless, the artificiality seems of a piece with the balance of the film.
The result is a strong piece of work that is well worth seeking out. The Region 1 DVD includes 11 cast and crew interviews and a 'Making of' featurette.