Ingmar Bergman’s The Magic Flute

By Vala Schriefer

The Magic Flute is Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s acclaimed two act opera that presents a range of magnificent arias, duets and ensembles. The Magic Flute is a moving tale of love, deception, bravery and magic. The music was composed by Mozart while the libretto was written by Emanuel Shikaneder, a German composer, singer and actor. The opera follows the story of Tamino, a prince who is ordered to rescue the princess Pamina by her mother, The Queen of the Night, in return for Pamino’s hand in marriage. Tamino is offered help from the foolhardy Papageno as well as people along the way of his journey. The Queen of the Night bequeaths the magic flute upon Tamino to help him when he is in peril.

Ingmar Bergman is a Swedish filmmaker who created his own imaginative take on The Magic Flute. His version is in Swedish rather than the original German and incorporates many of his own fantastical images and ideas. The music and the vocals are the same as the original, however Bergman’s spin on the story incorporates snippets of humor and whimsy.

Bergman sets the scene by introducing the many faces gazing at the stage where the opera will begin. One begins to feel to be a part of the audience experiencing the opera; waiting eagerly for the curtains to open so the story can unfold. A large paper-maché-looking dragon looms on stage chasing the terrified prince Tamino. Although the individual elements of the performance are that of which one would find in a play, the scenes, close-ups, and angles offer a different perspective for the viewer on this classic opera.

The character Papageno is first introduced near a dressing room rushing to make his cue on stage. All the while, he is Papageno, the lovable bird catcher hoping to find a wife. This scene not only includes an onstage performance, but also a peek of what lays behind the curtains. Following the intermission, the viewer watches activity backstage where the characters are lounging about. The usually fierce and manipulative onstage Queen of the Night is seen casually smoking a cigarette under a “smoking is prohibited” sign. The infatuated prince Tamino and his love the princess Pamina are nonchalantly playing chess. These scenes allow the viewer to decide where reality begins and where it ends, what is part of The Magic Flute and what is part of another story? Bergman incorporates these unique scenes throughout the film, layering his own motifs overtop of The Magic Flute.

Bergman reassures the viewer that they are part of the audience by showing short scenes of a young girl in the audience, reacting to pieces of the opera. Bergman lets the viewer choose their own reality in this sense as well; where are you experiencing this from? Behind stage? At the opera house? In a movie theater?

Although the effects, scene changes, and props are all very fake, the experience could not be more real. We all are able to relate to becoming so engrossed in a book that we put ourselves in that world created in the book, incorporating oneself as the reader into the story as a character. The viewer of The Magic Flute becomes completely engulfed in Ingmar Bergman’s world of drama, humor and enchantment. The film casts a different light on Mozart’s classic opera and encourages the viewer to think about their role in the story.