Branagh Turns from Bard to Opera
British director Kenneth Branagh talks about his movie version of Mozart's 'The Magic Flute' during a recent visit to the Venice Film Festival

BBC News, 13 September 2006
By Emma Jones, Entertainment reporter, BBC News
**Thanks, Jane

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Actor and director Kenneth Branagh has given cinematic makeovers to 'Hamlet', 'Henry V' and 'Much Ado About Nothing'. Now he is giving composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart the same treatment William Shakespeare received.

He and comedian Stephen Fry have rewritten Mozart's 1791 opera 'The Magic Flute' in English and set it in the trenches of World War I.

So will the so-called "Ken effect" bring a whole new audience to this 18th-Century piece?

"Shakespeare didn't need my help - he's been doing pretty well by himself for 400 years," said Branagh. "Nor does Mozart. But what makes them classics are the different mediums and interpretations. Something has to make people keep saying every generation, 'God, I love Mozart' or 'I love classical music.'"

Popular Culture
First performed in Vienna just three months before its creator's death, the opera was staged in what Branagh describes as "the equivalent of the Hackney Empire". The Magic Flute was very much part of popular culture and distanced from the court snobbery of the time, he adds.

Opera is now seen as the preserve of the cultural elite. But the director believes the public should not be scared of trying it out. "Speaking as someone completely ignorant, when I first heard this I thought, 'I know these tunes!' People are more familiar with this music then they think."

The cast of his film version includes German bass Rene Pape as wise ruler Sarastro and British newcomer Amy Carson as the heroine, Pamina.

Without a cast of stars, though, will Branagh's first directing project in three years find an audience outside of opera fans? The director hopes so, calling the plot an "archetypal story".

'Rarest of beasts'
"It's boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy has to go through trials to get girl back again."

At the film's world premiere on 7 September, held at Venice's opera house La Fenice, Branagh was given a warm reception. One critic has described his production as "that rarest of beasts - an opera you can eat popcorn to."

"It's not a recording of a great performance," says Branagh. "It's trying to use cinema to get people in and give them a taste of opera, not as a bit of cultural medicine."

The film-maker insists that directing opera remakes is not going to become a career habit. But his next project will be another remake - a new version of 1972 thriller 'Sleuth', starring Sir Michael Caine and Jude Law.

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