Kenneth Branagh Relished Adventure of Filming 'The Magic Flute'
CBC News, 20 March
Oscar-nominated British actor and director Kenneth Branagh saw no inconsistencies in setting his film adaptation of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's fairy tale opera, 'The Magic Flute' in the bloody fields of the First World War.
Well known for his film adaptations of William Shakespeare's plays, including 'Much Ado About Nothing', 'Hamlet' and 'As You Like It', Branagh told CBC's cultural affairs show Q on Friday that Mozart's 1791 opera has been set on the moon, in the jungle and on the beach. "From that point of view, it's the most elastic of operas," he said.
And, although 'The Magic Flute' is often considered light, romantic fare, Branagh noted that it also contains themes of light and darkness, good and evil that parallel the contrasting images of the glory and devastation of the First World War. "It premiered a few months before Mozart's death," he said. "There is a tender, pained underpinning to it … an awareness if the dark side."
Trained in the theatre and film, Branagh did not have a background in opera when he undertook the project, and described filming a production performed by singers rather than actors as "an adventure." His cast of opera singers, including Canadian tenor Joseph Kaiser who stars as Prince Tamino, was somewhat nervous about singing and acting on film. And Branagh admitted that he was both nervous and excited about filming an opera.
This tension, however, proved to have positive results. The cast had a tremendous appetite for performance, Branagh said, creating "a sense of risk or adventure … fun and edginess all the way through, which I think can be an important feature of what can make good art." Before shooting the film, the cast trained as actors with improvisation and ran through the production without singing. "We looked at the opera in the same way we would have looked at a contemporary play," Branagh said.
He never feared the project would fail. "You fall down, you get up, you fall down, you get up," Branagh said. "Or, as Samuel Beckett described it, 'Fail, fail again, fail better.'"
The Magic Flute opened in cinemas across North America on Friday.