How an assassination in 1792 led to the world’s greatest opera film | Movies
that of Ingmar Bergman The magic flute is widely regarded as the greatest of all cinematic operas. Roger Ebert called it “the most delicious movie ever made from an opera”, while The New York Times described it as “absolutely dazzling cinematic entertainment, so full of beauty, intelligence, wit and fun that it becomes a testament not only to man’s possibilities but also to his good humor”. Not bad for a low budget 1975 project, made for Swedish television, which hit theaters internationally because it had been so well received.
Strange as it may sound, we owe the film’s existence to a political assassination in 1792, when Jacob Johan Anckarström slaughtered the King of Sweden. Anckarström was part of the Swedish nobility, a group that lost power in 1772 when the recently crowned King Gustav III staged what amounted to a coup. Frustrated by the political stalemate in the Swedish parliament, Gustav maneuvered through a new constitution that dramatically increased his powers at the expense of the aristocrats.
The young king proved to be an enlightened despot, increasing press freedom and religious tolerance, prohibiting torture to obtain criminal confessions, encouraging free trade and reducing the severity of “bad laws” on the population. He was also one of the most arts-oriented leaders in history, active as a practitioner, as well as a patron of opera, theater and ballet.
He began writing plays and opera librarians at the age of 10 and continued to do so throughout his reign. Gustav founded Sweden’s first resident opera company less than a year after his ascension to the throne and had a superbly equipped theater built for them in 1782. Ironically, he was assassinated in the hall of his own opera house, so that he was attending a masked ball. (Gustave’s highly theatrical disappearance has been the subject of several operas.)
Stockholm’s royal theaters reopened after a period of mourning for Gustav’s death, but that was not the case near Drottningholm, site of the royal family’s summer palace. The 450-seat theater on the grounds has been closed and used as a furniture warehouse for almost 130 years.
In 1921, a Swedish historian inspected the theater and was amazed to find that its stage machinery from the Baroque era was still in good working order. The theater and its stage equipment were renovated, and summer performances resumed in 1922. (Only a handful of functional Baroque-era theaters exist, and Drottningholm is widely considered to be the most authentic.)
At age 12, Bergman saw The magic flute in Stockholm. He became obsessed with opera, doing sets and costumes for his home puppet theater, although he was appalled at the lengthy scene changes in the directing. A few years later, he traveled to Drottningholm and found the stage door to the theater unlocked.
“I walked in and saw the carefully restored Baroque theater for the first time,” Bergman wrote in Pictures, the chronicle of what inspired his films. “I remember very well how it was a spellbinding experience. … in my imagination I have always seen The magic flute living inside this old theater.
When he finally had the chance to do his Magic flute decades later, he hoped to film it inside the Drottningholm Theater, which was smaller but otherwise very similar to the Vienna Theater where the opera premiered in 1791. For Bergman, the visible stage magic of the location has become an important part of the film – a complete change of scenery lasts six seconds and is made in full view of the audience. (To see a short demonstration of Drottningholm’s amazing stage equipment in action, click on the embedded video at dtm.se/hours-prices.)
Bergman could not film The magic flute at the historic theater, which is not strong enough to support a film crew and equipment, so he had a life-size replica built in the studios of the Swedish Film Institute. And he hired a Scandinavian cast with no famous singers, saying, “For me it was absolutely essential that the play be performed by young actors, naturally close to the dizzying and emotional shifts between joy and sadness, between thought. and feeling. “
The resulting film is funny, deep, charming and also sexy, an adjective rarely applied to The magic flute. The best summary was provided by Pauline Kael in The New Yorker: “[Bergman] recently said: “Making the film was the best part of my life. You can’t imagine what it is like to have Mozart’s music in the studio every day.” In fact, by watching the movie, we can.