‘The Magic Flute’ is a Mozart tribute with some holes in it

‘The Magic Flute’ is a Mozart tribute with some holes in it

There are dragons, witches and wills-o’-the-wisps in the fantasy musical “The Magic Flute.” But the fictional creation I most wanted to be real was “The Mozart International School of Music,” an elite boarding school deep in the mountains of Germany where music students come from all over the world to learn the master’s secrets. Think Hogwarts, but with arpeggios instead of accio charms.

It’s a strange idea, but then “The Magic Flute” is a strange movie, a well-intentioned attempt to wrap Mozart’s 1791 opera in the robes of a 21st-century young-adult fantasy. It’s too uneven to succeed, but you half-admire the attempt director Florian Sigl and producer Roland Emmerich (“Moonfall”) made to make such a magical work of art accessible to young ears.

“The Magic Flute” is now playing in Madison at Marcus Palace.

Tim (Jack Wolfe) is a talented tenor who enrolls mid-term at the school at the request of his dying father. He soon finds himself wrapped up in the drama of school life, fending off bullies, falling for a fellow classmate, Sophie (Niamh McCormack) and trying out to play Prince Tamino in the school version of “Flute,” despite the stern rebukes from the school’s glowering headmaster. In a sly bit of casting, the headmaster is played by F. Murray Abraham, who was the envious Salieri to Mozart in 1984’s “Amadeus.”

“There’s magic in these halls,” one of Tim’s instructors says, and he finds out that that’s not just a metaphor. He discovers a secret passage in the library that transports him to a magical realm where a real-life version of Mozart’s opera is taking place. Three witches tell him that if he completes Tamino’s quest, he’ll get the part back in the real world.

The entire movie toggles back and forth between school and this fantasy world, with Tim hopping back and forth. The songs from “Magic Flute” in the movie are rough English translations of Mozart’s original German, sung by the actors not as opera but in the style of a modern pop musical.

Occasionally a real opera singer, such as French soprano Sabine Devieilhe, pops in to blow the doors off the movie. But then, for some reason, Tim and Sophie do a piano duet of the Jackson 5’s “I’ll Be There.”

None of it really fits together, and the heavy use of CGI digital effects robs “The Magic Flute” of any real wonder. But maybe it’s worth it if it sends a curious young viewer to see the opera on stage, where the real magic happens.

 

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