Mozart: The Magic Flute

LABELS: Revolver Entertainment
WORKS: The Magic Flute
PERFORMER: Joseph Kaiser, Benjamin Jay Davis, Amy Carson, René Pape, Thomas Randle, Lyubov Petrova, Silvia Moi; Chamber Orchestra of Europe/James Conlon; dir. Kenneth Branagh (film, 2007)
CATALOGUE NO: REVD 2076 (NTSC System; dts 5.1; 16:9 picture format)
Kenneth Branagh’s film of The Magic Flute received generally cool critical acclaim when it opened on the big screen. Working with young singers supported by the Peter Moores Foundation, and set in the trenches, it could have been revelatory. So what went wrong? This Flute starts promisingly enough with a hand picking a speedwell from a spring meadow. As the Overture picks up steam, cut to soldiers polishing guns in a bunker. ‘Zu hilfe, zu hilfe!’ (except this is in the craftily tailored Stephen Fry/Branagh screenplay in English) – and a hand grenade is lobbed over. The Three Ladies appear, as in a vision: are they Capuchin nuns, or land-army girls? And poor deluded Papageno exhibits all the symptom of post-traumatic stress syndrome. There are many cunning individual ideas: the ‘inset’ of monochrome ballroom footage as Tamino fantasises on his picture of Pamina; the sweeping aerial panning of the war-dead of centuries during Sarastro’s ‘O Isis und Osiris’; the rapid descent of the Three Boys down a chimney in Sarastro’s Colditz of a palace/fortress. Sarastro (superbly sung by René Pape) is a gentle freedom-fighter: his recruitment of Tamino to an alternative cause from which peace may arise is probably the serious flaw which undermines the over-arching intelligence of Branagh’s concept. Things are never quite real enough, or fantastic enough. The medium of cinema could have been far more feistily exploited to create a true sense of quest. But Branagh inspires the young singers to keen, eager performances. Lyubov Petrova is a silver-screen Queen of Night, but James Conlon’s pacy conducting of the Chamber Orchestra of Europe is where the true magic is to be found. The presentation is woefully inadequate: no booklet enclosure, and extras which include only shabbily edited and disjointed interviews with cast and crew members. Hilary Finch