If viewers can focus on its attractive young cast, the live performances of many international opera stars and the well-executed fusion of reality and fantasy, “The Magic Flute,” the latest film adaptation of Mozart’s famous opera, should prove a dynamic and enjoyable musical journey. . But purists, cynics, and those who like a bit of edge with their modern retellings of classic material may beg to differ.
Unlike the best-known screen version of The Flute, Ingmar Bergman’s 1975 film record of his staged opera (first shown on Swedish television and then theatrically released), this new iteration adds even more magic to the procedure. Directed by first-time filmmaker Florian Sigl, from a script by Andrew Lowery, Jason Young and David White (Sigl and producer Christopher Zwickler are given “created by” credits), the film presents Mozart’s work as a kind of story within a story — a portrait of two analogous worlds.
This clever, binary approach first finds outspoken 17-year-old Tim Walker (a charming and unassuming Jack Wolfe) entering the prestigious Mozart All Boys Music School, a kind of Hogwarts for gifted musicians tucked away in the Austrian Alps. He arrives late in the semester to hone his craft as a singer and follow in the footsteps of his recently deceased father (Greg Wise), an alumnus of the institute.
But life at school is usually full of Tim, who faces bullying, rowdyism, intense competition, an anxious roommate (Elliot Courtiour), the rowdy son of an opera star (Amir Wilson) and the imposing headmaster, Dr. Longbow (Oscar winner F. Murray Abraham, who co-starred with Mozart in the 1984 film Amadeus). Longbow puts Tim through his paces, with a watchful eye and critical tongue, all in the service of turning him into a “world-class singer.” Meanwhile, music history teacher Mr. Baumgartner (Tedros Teclebrhan) takes a more measured and supportive stance.
Plus, auditions are coming up for the school’s Christmas recital, a production of — you guessed it — The Magic Flute, and Tim can’t wait to play the lead role of his dad’s beloved Prince Tamino. But will Tim have what it takes to win the role?
Tim finds a way to escape the pressures – but faces all new pressures – when he discovers a mystical portal in the school library that puts him into another realm where the story of the “Magic Court” unfolds in all its operatic, fantastical sublime. Tim gets his real-life wish to play the handsome Prince Tamino and soon finds himself on a collision course with a monstrous serpent, the evil Sarastro, the Sun Priest (Metropolitan Opera’s Maurice Robinson) and the mysterious Queen of the Night (French H soprano Sabine Devieilhe), whose beautiful daughter, Princess Pamina (Asha Banks), Tamino is tasked with rescuing from grave danger (not to mention destined to fall in love with). However, not everything is as it seems.
Tim will access the “Magic Flute” land portal multiple times to pass all the tests of courage that Tamino faces. These include maintaining a critical vow of silence and life and death trials by fire and water. But, at least as presented here, they are not as tragic to overcome as the lore might make them out to be.
Tamino is helped along the way by his soulful henchman — and the Queen’s henchman — Papageno (Iwan Rheon of “Game of Thrones” and the British sitcom “Vicious”). He also gets some magical help from the flute of honor, which is presented to him by the Queen’s three handmaidens (Larissa Hearden, Yasmin Sakeri, Jean Gourchot).
Back in reality, Tim finds himself falling in love with Sophie (Niamh McCormack), a student on the Mozart academy side with an indoor track at the school. But aside from a great scene in which they collaborate on a sweet rendition of the Jackson 5 tune “I’ll Be There,” their moments together lack chemistry.
As for Mozart’s iconic score, there is plenty of gorgeous orchestration along with many standout vocal performances, particularly Devieilhe’s rousing rendition of Queen’s aria ‘The Wrath of Hell’ and Robinson’s ‘Before Our Holy Altar’. “Pa Pa Papagena” (featuring Stéfi Celma of the hit French TV series “Call My Agent!” as Papageno’s similarly named soulmate) is a lot of fun. Although what is on offer is, of necessity, a significantly cut-down version of Mozart’s original work, the film appropriately hits the highlights and serves as an accessible introduction to the beloved piece. (Jeremy Shams provided the English libretto.)
The film, executive produced by director Roland Emmerich (“Independence Day,” “Moonfall”), was shot largely on Bavarian soundstages and in Mozart’s birthplace of Salzburg, Austria, including the city’s Schloss Leopoldskron, a palace where parts of “The Sound of Music” were also filmed. But the prehistoric desert backdrops of the Canary Islands are not always an ideal match for much of the fantasy-opera action played against them.
The costumes and production design are strong, although the opera scenes tend toward a more theatrical look. Pixomondo’s (“Game of Thrones”) visual effects, notably the animation of the Queen’s ill-fated serpent, are also competent.
While there are obvious parallels between both the music school and opera stories (did you know love conquers all?), they don’t line up as neatly as they could. And the film’s final moment, despite its own sense of narrative logic, feels like a cheat and perhaps a less glorious way to take us out than the film deserves.
However, this “Magic Flute” has a lot to recommend it and is a worthy, well-performed, often exciting and dazzling take on an enduring masterpiece.
“The magic Flute”
It has not been rated
Running time: 2 hours, 4 minutes.
Game: Launches March 10 in general release