The Magic Flute (2022) – Film Review
Director: Florian Sigl
Cast: Jack Wolfe, F. Murray Abraham, Niamh McCormack
By Elizabeth Stanforth-Sharpe
Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute was first published in 1791, three and a half weeks after the composer’s death, and in its first year it was performed over one hundred times. It is a Singspiel – that is, it includes both spoken and sung dialogue, influenced by Mozart’s interest in Freemasonry; the allegorical storyline conceived around the initiation of Prince Tamino.
Tamino is lost in a foreign land, pursued by a huge serpent-like monster, and calling upon the gods to help him, before fainting with fear. Three attendants of the Queen of Night appear, kill the serpent, and, as he recovers, show Tamino a picture of Princess Pamino who has been captured by the evil Sarastro. Equipped with a magical flute, some magic bells, and the help of Papageno, he sets off on a quest to rescue the princess, which calls for him to fulfil three challenges.
The Magic Flute is still one of the most frequently performed and adapted operas throughout the world, perhaps because it allows scope for such fantastic interpretations in costume, presentation, and media.
Florian Sigl has co-written and directed this latest film production in a way that transforms the concept of the original into a bildungsroman that addresses the challenges of growing through loss, establishing one’s own identity, and those complex awakenings of first love, using the clever device of setting the opera as a story within a story.
Tim/Prince Tamino is played by Yorkshire-educated Jack Wolfe. Tim’s musician father (Greg Wise – another Yorkshire-educated lad) hands him a score of The Magic Flute whilst on his death bed, which he stole from the Mozart School of Music in Austria, when he was a student there. It is his dying wish that Tim also studies there and returns the book to the library for him.
Tim arrives at the school just as auditions for a production of The Magic Flute are taking place. He desperately wants to play Prince Tamino, but his professor Dr Longbow (F. Murray Abraham) makes it clear that the role is not for him. Tim discovers the score is a key to a portal that takes him right into the heart of the story of the opera where he lives and breathes Prince Tamino.
Anton Milanesi (Amir Wilson) is the son of famous opera star Enrico Milanesi, and Dr Longbow has already given the part of Prince Tamino to him. Anton knows he is a school favourite who bullies the other students, but underlying his aggression is the knowledge that he does not want to be a singer like his father. He is a drummer, but can he convince his father that his musical discipline is just as valid as the classics?
Sophie (Niamh McCormack) is Dr Longbow’s daughter. She likes singing, but a very different style of music to that taught at the school. She is there because her father is and would rather be anywhere else… until Tim arrives.
Paolo Tocci (Ellie Courtiour) is Tim’s roommate, who is mourning the loss of another student.
Also noteworthy is the part of Papageno, played by Game of Thrones actor, Iwan Rheon.
The executive producer is Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, Moonfall), and the film is shot in the alps of Austria, yet some scenes have a strange Canary Island desert backdrop to them, which makes the fantasy aspect seem mis-matched in places. Visual effects such as the serpent are created by Pixomondo (also responsible for Game of Thrones), and there are some lavish costume choices.
The Magic Flute has echoes of His Dark Materials, Dr Who, Outlander, The Narnia Chronicles, and The Bridge To Terabithia, and yet, I can’t really pinpoint what its target audience is intended to be. There are some illustrious names involved in the film, the music introduces the story and music of Mozart’s opera in an accessible way, with some stand out performances, particularly Sabine Devieilhe’s rendition of ‘The Wrath of Hell’, and Morris Robinson’s deep-throated ‘Before Our Holy Altar’, but also includes a few nods to more recent music, including snatches of hymn tunes and… erm… The Jackson Five. There’s a mention of Adele – but only a mention – to add to the melee.
The parallels between life in a boarding school intended to raise musical geniuses, and the operatic storyline are obvious. Love conquers all challenges sums both up easily, but the journey of the film seems a bit clumsy and laboured in places, ‘though I suspect that the interruptions of lockdown may have something to answer for; it has the feel of something that could’ve been a great film, resources have obviously been lavished upon it, but it has suffered by having to be locked away until the enthusiasm diminished and it lost its way a little.
Nonetheless, there are worse way to spend a rainy afternoon.