Ingmar Bergman's adaptation of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's famous 1791 opera The Magic Flute (or, Trollflöjten if you prefer) is the perfect example of the filmmaker's knack for blending sound and vision. Bergman was quite knowledgeable about music and had an affinity for both opera and classical, and so too did he have a deep appreciation for theater. All of this comes together in this 135-minute made for TV production that was originally shown in 1975.
The story? It will seem familiar to anyone familiar with the source material. The Queen Of The Night (Birgit Nordin) convinces dashing Prince Tamino (Josef Köstlinger) to rescue her daughter, Princess Pamina (Irma Urrila). She's being held captive by a priest named Sarastro (Ulrik Cold). To aid him in his quest, the Queen gives Tamino a magic flute and to his friend, a bird hunter named Papageno (Håkan Hagegård), some magic bells. Papageno hopes that somewhere along the way of this journey, he'll be able to find a woman to make his wife. As they set out to rescue Pamina, the encounter all manner of quirky, interesting characters and experience events that will change them.
Mozart devotees may take issue with the fact that Bergman did make some changes here. The story differs a bit from the original work and some of the songs are switched around. On top of that, it's performed and delivered in Swedish, clearly no the opera's original language (though absolutely the one that would be spoken by the project's target audience). That said, what he manages to capture on film with this project is nothing short of impressive. Working with renowned Scandinavian soloists like Josef Köstlinger, Ulrik Cold, Håkan Hagegård and Birgit Nordin the film really manages to capture the power and the beauty of its source material.
Cinematographer Sven Nykvist, who worked with Bergman often, does a great job of capturing the splendor. The film is an interesting one from a visual point of view. This isn't exactly a document of a stage production but nor is it a traditional ‘film' either, it mixes both platforms in rather splendid ways and comes complete with an audience. Bergman doesn't try to realistically portray the fantasy world that the opera takes place in, but instead to portray the theatrical recreation of that world. On this level, he succeeds, not hiding but accentuating the ‘live theater' aspect of the production throughout the duration of the film. It's an interesting idea that makes this project unique, while at the same time allowing Nykvist to capture some genuinely beautiful imagery throughout. As such, the whole thing feels appropriately whimsical, and you can certainly get a feel for the appreciation shown for the material not just by the performers, but by those working so diligently behind the camera as well.
It's also worth pointing out that in the audience we can see Ingmar Bergman himself along with his son Daniel and his wife Ingrid Bergman as well as cinematographer Sven Nykvist.
Criterion brings The Magic Flute to Blu-ray on a 50GB disc in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer taken from a new 2017 2k restoration and framed at 1.37.1. Generally speaking, this is very solid transfer. There are some spots that look a little softer than others but this would seem to be due to the original cinematography rather than the elements or the transfer itself. Colors look quite nice and skin tones are natural looking. Black levels are solid as well. There's very little print damage here, and the image retains the expected amount of natural film grain. Compression artifacts are never a problem and the image is free of obvious noise reduction or edge enhancement issues.
The Swedish language LPCM 2.0 Stereo track is clean and properly balanced. The vocals come through very strongly here and the track is free of any obvious hiss or distortion. There's some interesting and effective channel separation here as well. Optional subtitles are provided in English only. As the audio was pre-recorded and then laid over the visuals, there are a few spots where there's a slight synch issue, but otherwise, no complaints.
Extras start off with a twenty-minute-minute interview with director Ingmar Bergman recorded in 1974 for Swedish television. He speaks here to a journalist named Sigvard Hammar about working with the different performers, the sets and the stage used for the production and more. The disc also includes a new interview with film scholar and Bergman biographer Peter Cowie that runs just over eighteen-minutes in length. He compares and contrasts this to other Bergman works and offers insight into what he feels makes it the effective stand out piece that it is.
Lastly, the disc also includes Tystnad! Tagning! Trollflöjten!, a sixty-five-minute documentary produced for Swedish television that covers the making of the film. Produced by Katinka Farago and husband Mans Reutersward, it's an interesting look at the making of the film that shows off what went into staging certain scenes, how the film was directed and quite a bit more. Criterion's older DVD release was barebones, so it's nice to see quite a bit of supplemental material offered alongside the audio and video upgrades.
The disc also comes packaged with a color insert booklet that contains an essay by author Alexander Chee as well as credits for the film and for the Blu-ray release.
The Magic Flute is both artistically impressive and quite moving, a beautiful work of filmic art that does an excellent job of bringing the power and the beauty of the opera that it's based on to the small screen. Criterion's Blu-ray looks really nice and sounds quite good as well. On top of that, we're also given a solid selection of extra features that detail the making of the film and its significance. Highly recommended.