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SYNOPSIS

Directed by the award-winning Kenneth Branagh, this film brings to the big screen one of the most exquisite operas ever to have been written. Translated into English by Stephen Fry, the film is a period epic set in and around the trenches of World War 1, with a fantastical twist.

With superb production values, the film appeals both to opera lovers and regular movie-goers, to children and adults, and promises a great time out for all the family.

On the eve of the first global war a magical drama unfolds as Tamino sets forth on a perilous journey in pursuit of love, light and peace in a world afflicted by darkness, death and destruction. An eerie quiet descends over a landscape still untouched by conflict as Tamino waits anxiously with his fellow recruits for the command to go into battle. In the ensuing chaos he is transported to a twilight world caught between dream and nightmare where he is rescued from certain death by a trio of field nurses.

When Papageno (keeper of the canaries employed to detect the presence of gas in the trenches) stumbles onto the scene and attempts to take credit for saving Tamino, the Sisters dispatch the two soldiers on a deadly mission. The duo must rescue Pamina, the lovely daughter of the Queen of the Night, who has been kidnapped by the dark lord, Sarastro. What follows is a spectacular musical adventure in which the destiny of a pair of young lovers may help determine the fate of nations and the lives of millions.

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ABOUT THE MUSIC

"I have this moment returned from the opera, which was full as ever... What always gives me most pleasure is the silent approval. You can see how this opera is becoming more and more popular..."

Mozart writing to his wife Constanze, 7-8 October 1791

When it was first performed in 1791 Mozart's opera The Magic Flute was a revelation of musical originality and diversity for an unsuspecting Viennese audience. They discovered a new form of German musical theatre which was an inspired marriage of lowbrow popular entertainment combined with high drama of the calibre which was usually only considered suitable for the refined tastes of nobility and the court. Mozart's first audiences were beguiled and at times confused by the narrative, the stylistic counterpoint and the contradictions inherent in the opera's story. It is these elements, however, which continue to challenge and fascinate contemporary audiences more than two centuries later.

The Magic Flute was originally conceived as a popular piece of musical entertainment which was specifically written to be performed in the Theater auf der Wieden, a temporary theatre located in Vienna's suburbs. The actor / manager Emanuel Schikaneder had taken a lease on the building and needed a popular work which his troupe could perform. He wanted a work which would make the most of the theatre's facilities for special stage effects, such as multiple trapdoors, wires for flying actors and props. It is very likely that Schikaneder, who also wrote the libretto, included contributions from his company.

Mozart then transformed the fairytale format of the libretto, not least by choosing to write the opera as a German singspiel which meant that he was not restricted by the form and convention of his previous Italian Da Ponte trilogy (Le nozze di Figaro, Cosi fan tutte, Don Giovanni). The resulting opera deftly blends narrative and music in an extraordinary combination of rare simplicity and great complexity expressed with an exhilarating freedom which has ensured that The Magic Flute remains fresh and innovative to this day.

While The Magic Flute is not as strong on characterisation as the Da Ponte operas, Mozart's attention in telling the story was focused on issues which didn't necessarily need three dimensional characters for their propagation. For him it was the narrative and the journey which his characters embarked upon which were of greater significance. As a half-allegorical and half-farcical entertainment the narrative can be understood on many different levels; at its most straightforward it tells the story of a young man and woman's progress (Tamino and Pamina) from the darkness of ignorance to the light of understanding through the trials of experience, whilst contrasting this with the comic failure to progress to self-realisation of another young man (Papageno).

It begins in darkness in the realm of the evil Queen of the Night and ends in glorious illumination, through the benign enlightenment demonstrated by Sarastro and his followers. It is against the grandeur of this solemn progress that the comic, almost slapstick, subplot of Papageno's "progress," that of the earthy, material man, is also played out. Schikaneder and Mozart had undoubtedly wanted their work to appeal to a popular audience who would be easily engaged by comic theatricalities and flamboyant stage effects. The resulting experience would have been similar to the contemporary tradition of British pantomime, still popular today.

Much has been written about the story's references to the symbolism and rituals of Freemasonry, the brotherhood which Mozart belonged to in the last years of his life. To this day it is a secret society which meets for the purpose of pursuing truth and "enlightenment" through charity, humanity, tolerance, and brotherly love, themes which are articulated in The Magic Flute. If however, you strip the opera of its Masonic veneer, the story still retains its symbolic symmetries and contrasts: light and dark, sun and moon, male and female, fire and water; gold and silver, which find expression in the plot and characters.

But more than any analysis of its narrative, it is the music Mozart composed for The Magic Flute which provides the constant "magic" of the opera. And whilst breaking with convention by adopting a singspiel format of popular German theatre, he still paid homage to some of his own musical heroes, notably: Bach, Handel and Gluck, all of whose influences his audiences would easily have recognized.

For a two act opera to be so self-contained within a two and a half hour time frame Mozart's other great innovation was his economy of style. Aware that the boisterous audiences of the popular theatre would not have been so indulgent of the overblown Italian arias and recitative favoured in Viennese court circles, Mozart contained his music within a concise framework, his technical proficiency and flair enabling him to work through an elaborate drama at a breathtaking pace, in which narrative and musical harmony are so effortlessly matched.

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TRAILER

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RECOMMENDED READING

Literature and music referenced in the film.

John Keats' Ode on a Grecian Urn

John Keats

Ode on a Grecian Urn is the' 3rd of 5 'great odes' written in 1918 and includes the two lines that are most discussed throughout Keats' work; '"Beauty is truth, truth beauty" - that is all/ Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.' The meaning of these lines are heavily debated amongst poets and writers alike. The unknown narrator of the poem is also a mystery, which not unlike those two famous lines, leads to much debate.

William Blake's Mock on, Mock on, Voltaire, Rousseau and
Songs of Innocence and of Experience

William Blake

Mock on, Mock on, Voltaire, Rousseau: Reformist, romantic poet, William Blake wrote this poem at the time of the Enlightenment era defending his religious views against science. The poet mocks the philosophers, Voltaire and Rousseau, who rejected orthodox Christianity.

Songs of Innocence and of Experience: This book features two separate collections from Blake; Songs of Innocence, first published alone in 1789, and Songs of Experience, published with the first collection in 1974. He published them both together to show the contrast between our innocence and our experience. The experience poems show how the human spirit fades after being stifled and forced to adhere to rules and regulations.

Bram Stoker's Dracula

Bram Stoker's Dracula

Dracula is one of the first and one of the most famous vampire books. The narrative is told through letters, diary entries, ship logs and so on. The themes include that of the role of women in Victorian culture and immigration, to name but a few. In this novel, Stoker defined the modern image of the vampire.

Jules Massenet's Méditation

Jules Massenet

Méditation is a piece of music written for a solo violin and an orchestra. The music is from Massenet's opera Thaïs. The opera is about religion and love and Méditation is performed during a time of reflection.

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Johann Sebastian Bach's Brandenburg Concertos

Johann Sebastian Bach

Bach's Brandenburg Concertos are a collection of 6 instrumental works, which were presented to Christian Luduig, a military officer of Brandenburg-Prussia's Hohenzoller dynasty in 1721.

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Antonio Vivaldi's Giustino

Antonio Vivaldi

Giustino is an opera in three parts, composed in 1724. One of the most famous musical numbers in the opera is Spring, which is one of four violin concertos. The opera was commissioned by Frederico Vivaldi Capranica for the theatre; all the cast, even the alto singing parts were male as no women were allowed on the stage.

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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Così fan tutte

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Così fan tutte was first performed in Vienna, 1970. The play, set in Naples in the 18th century, surrounds the theme of fiancée swapping and elements of Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew can be seen throughout.

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REACTIONS

"Branagh's 'Flute' is a joy"

Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times

"Branagh has done a sterling job, full of energy and colour"

Laura Bushell, BBC

"Offered to the moviegoer in a generous, uncynical spirit, and what a refreshing change it makes"

Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian

"The sheer visual verve of Branagh's peppy direction turns this into that rarest of beasts: opera you can eat popcorn to"

Lee Marshall, The Guardian

"The film's a knockout"

Hermione Eyre, The Independent

"Branagh disproves the maxim that opera singers can't act with his inventive casting"

Lee Marshall, Screen Daily

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