first venture into opera proper. Sadly, there is no recording of the production, staged at the Royal Swedish Opera, but it was noted that Bergman’s direction in general encouraged an unforced and playful style, without ignoring the serious undercurrents. The production was widely praised, including by foreign critics, and Stravinsky himself was very complimentary. Yet despite its success Bergman didn’t direct another opera in the theatre for three decades. His next operatic venture would be on screen.
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Bergman saw his first Magic Flute as a boy and tried to stage it in his puppet theatre. Together with his sister he prepared all the costumes and scenery, but, he remembered, ‘The project fell through because it was too expensive for us to purchase a complete recording of the opera.’ Yet, as he described it, the opera became his ‘companion through life’. In 1968 Tamino’s ‘O ew’ge Nacht’ made an appearance in his film Hour of the Wolf, a gothic fantasy in which a very troubled painter is invited to supper with a whole man-eating cast of aristocrats at a Dracula-style castle, the music being performed after the meal by a mini-figure in a marionette theatre.
It would be another five years before Bergman finally got the green light to make his film of The Magic Flute. He had originally wanted to set the opera in the delightful Drottningholm Court Theatre, which has remained practically untouched since the 18th century. But the theatre couldn’t have coped with the onslaught of a film crew, and therefore the historical sets and flying machinery were recreated in detail in a film studio. The Swedish press reported the project’s skyrocketing costs, and some claimed that it would appeal to only a minority of viewers. But once more the doubters were proved wrong. The broadcast was watched by one third of Sweden’s population, and the sale of the broadcasting rights generated a decent profit. The fact that it was sung in Swedish (as Trollflöjten) proved no hindrance.
Bergman turned out to be a very perceptive and witty Mozartian. In the interval he takes us backstage, where we see the pantomime dragon stomping around in the wings, the Queen of the Night enjoying a cigarette, and Sarastro studying the score of Parsifal. Bergman is reasonably respectful of the libretto, but does suggest that Sarastro is Pamina’s father. This means that the Queen of the Night and the Priest of the Sun have had a relationship followed by a bitter divorce. It is not a repeat of Scenes from a Marriage, but Bergman seems to interpret The Magic Flute as a family drama rather than as an allegory about the battle between good and evil.
■ Håkan Hagegård and Irma Urrila in Bergman’s celebrated film of ‘The Magic Flute’
Bergman met Herbert von Karajan in Salzburg in 1983. The ailing conductor admitted to not liking Bergman’s Magic Flute, although he found it charming in places. ‘Towards
Opera, December 2018