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Fictional Hokum

Kevin Sullivan's
'Magic Flute Diaries' -
reviewed by

'... a "rag-bag" of special effects and Mozartian absurdities ...'

'The Magic Flute Diaries' by Kevin Sullivan. © 2008 Sullivan Entertainment Inc

These 'Diaries' serve magnificently as a glowing introduction to Salzburg, a UNESCO World Heritage Site (since 1997). by the banks of the Salzach river. The city, Austria's fourth largest, is located at the northern boundary of the Alps; a site of baroque towers and churches and the massive Festung Hohensalzburg (literally 'High Salzburg Fortress').

Much of Rodgers and Hammerstein's title The Sound of Music (1965), directed by Robert Wise and featuring Julie Andrews, was filmed in and around Salzburg. But its most enduring legacy is as birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart -- to this day the spirit and character of Salzburg and Mozart are inescapably intertwined.

This is the premise that underlies the 'tourism-opera and fictional hokum' found in Kevin Sullivan's Magic Flute Diaries.

Whether the 'timeless classic' punchline refers to Mozart's original or this 'cut and paste' Salzburg-based 'travelogue/musical/mystery' is never entirely clear.

Sullivan (BSc -- biology) heads the conglomerate Sullivan Entertainment Inc, co-founded with partner Trudy Grant in 1979 and credited with a seemingly inexhaustible plethora of film and television adaptations (1985-2002) from Anne of Green Gables novels by Canadian author Lucy Maud Montgomery (1874-1942).

The company sued Montgomery's heirs for defamation following a 1999 press conference, in which the heirs claimed Sullivan withheld profits from productions based on Montgomery's books. Sullivan claimed there was no profit and that the heirs ruined his company's initial public offering, costing it millions in business. Subsequently Sullivan appealed the court decision that cleared the heirs of Lucy Maud Montgomery of libel.

The appeal certificate accused Judge Jean MacFarland of making seventeen legal errors in her ruling.

Sullivan Entertainment's fifty-five million dollar lawsuit against the heirs was thrown out of court in January 2004. MacFarland wrote in her 38-page ruling that Sullivan was one of the 'most evasive witnesses I have encountered'.

Clearly the unruffled, rural peace of Green Gables, Prince Edward Island and bustling Salzburg in the 18th century are as different as chalk and cheese.

Nonetheless now (2007) Sullivan has written, produced and directed The Magic Flute Diaries (DVD); its central character (Warren Christie), besotted with Mozart, is witness to a colorful imagined farrago of operatic wraiths, mountain mists, characters descending into forest glades like Harrier 'jump-jets', others whisked off into threatening skies -- a 'rag-bag' of special effects and Mozartian absurdities which make Peter Schaffer's quasi-factual play Amadeus (1979) look positively authentic.

Watch and listen -- DVD chapter 3, 14:50-15:49
© 2008 Sullivan Entertainment Inc

Amadeus told a tendentious, historically flawed fiction of Mozart (1756-1791) and court composer Antonio Salieri (1750-1825) who, overcome with jealousy at hearing the 'voice of God' coming from an 'obscene child', set out to destroy his rival. It won the Evening Standard Drama Award and the Theatre Critics Award for the London production. While on Broadway it took the 1981 Tony Award for Best Play and ran for more than a thousand performances. The play enjoyed widespread popularity when adapted for the screen and filmed in 1984. Amadeus, directed by Milos Forman, starred Tom Hulce and F Murray Abraham.

For Sullivan's curious Mozart incarnation, Christie's contribution is as Tom Henderson, a rookie opera singer (Tamino) falling in love with the mysterious, little known diva, cast opposite him in The Magic Flute; a Salzburg production. Tom's imagination carries him back to the 18th century to the grandeur and glory of Mozart's time. But lo and behold, Pamina (the East European co-star Mireille Asselin) is being held forcibly in a lavish Salzburg palace.

Musicologist Dr Richard Nagel (Rutger Haueur), engaged to train her in The Magic Flute arias, resolves to make her the most captivating Pamina in living memory.

To complicate matters the diva disappears, jeopardizing the première. With Tom's inamorata gone, his obsession is shattered. He enters a world of intrigue and danger, mirrored through his role in Mozart's drama.

Watch and listen -- DVD chapter 9, 35:40-36:42
© 2008 Sullivan Entertainment Inc

His life is thrown into disarray as he is swept into a perilous world in order to save his co-star. He begins to understand that his 'reality' holds just as much suspense and romance as the opera's make-belief and intrigue.

Sullivan explains, 'The film is designed to captivate audiences via an elaborate musical spectacle recreating all the extravagance of the 18th century with the energy of a contemporary pop video.' So there you have it.

Watch and listen -- DVD chapter 25, 96:28-97:28
© 2008 Sullivan Entertainment Inc

For some viewers, the rehearsal and selected scenes from Mozart's singspiel (Die Zauberflöte) will provide the greatest interest. These are the work of Opéra Atelier, a Canadian Baroque opera company, founded in Toronto (1985) by husband and wife Marshall Pynkoski and Jeannette Zingg. The company specialises in 17th and 18th century opera. Jane Hargraft (current director) was formerly director of development at the Canadian Opera Company.

Others may well be dazzled by the variety of opulent interiors in view as the 'Diaries' unfolds.

Sullivan Entertainment Inc throw another spanner into the ever-expanding Mozart works with an abbreviated Magic Flute soundtrack CD (in English) as an adjunct to Opéra Atelier's DVD.

It has thirty tracks with incongruous adaptations by Slovak pianist, conductor and composer Peter Breiner (born 1957). Recording engineers Otto Knopp (Bratislava) and Ron Searles (Toronto) were in on the act, and the whole impossible concoction was recorded in 2007.

Listen -- CD track 30, 1:07-1:53
© 2008 Sullivan Entertainment Inc

But Sullivan's most recent stab at Salzburg's most famous son, Mozart Decoded, is a documentary-biography-DVD (2008). It takes an in depth look at Mozart's tumultuous and often difficult life from his beginnings as a musical 'miracle' child through his rise to stardom and finally to his untimely death, aged 35. Running time: 60 minutes (SUL-DV24242).

In preference to the whole Sullivan package I'd suggest one or more of the following:

(a) The straight opera Die Zauberflöte, K620 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Désirée Rancatore, soprano, Gaële Le Roi, soprano, Uwe Peper, tenor, Detlef Roth, baritone, Hélène Perraguin, soprano, Helene Schneiderman, mezzo soprano, Matti Salminen, bass, Piotr Beczala, tenor, Cecile Perrin, soprano, Wolfgang Schöne, bass, Paris National Opera Chorus, Paris National Opera Orchestra, Adám Fischer, conductor on TDK DVWW-OPMFP, 158 minutes (2001).

(b) For children/teenagers able to cope with subtitles, Die Zauberflöte für Kinder (1978/2007); cast: Christian Boesch, Peter Schreier, Ileana Cotrubas, Kurt Rydl, Zdzislawa Donat; Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by James Levine; Director: Jean-Pierre Ponnelle. Sung in German and subtitled. Number of discs: 1. Studio: TDK.

(c) Classic version, directed by Ingmar Bergman in 1975. Cast: Jerker Arvidson, Jane Darling, Helene Friberg, Nina Harte, Sven-Erik Jacobsson. Format: Color, DVD; Language: Swedish; Subtitles: English: Number of discs: 1. Studio: Criterion. DVD release date: 16 May 2000. Length: 135 minutes.

(d) For modern times. Kenneth Branagh; keen to give Mozart's story about two courting couples an epic breadth, set The Magic Flute in a 20th century combat zone. A young World War I soldier waiting for the command to go to battle is transported into a twilight world between dream and nightmare. He is sent on a deadly mission to rescue the daughter of the Queen of the Night from the dark lord Sarastro. The film (2006) was conceived and directed by Kenneth Branagh with English libretto and dialogue by Stephen Fry. Musical director James Conlon conducts the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. The idea for the film was proposed by opera philanthropist, Sir Peter Moores, who said: 'In Kenneth Branagh, we have found the ideal director, and I am delighted that he has agreed to bring his great talent to the film.'

Copyright © 3 September 2008 Howard Smith, Masterton, New Zealand


Mozart's Magic Flute Diaries

24222 NTSC DVD Widescreen 5.1 audio NEW RELEASE 104' 2008 Sullivan Entertainment Inc

Warren Christie; Mireille Asselin; Olivier Laquerre; Erin Windle; Rutger Hauer; Peter Breiner, music adaptations and compositions; Peter Breiner, conductor; Trudy Grant, executive producer; Kevin Sullivan, producer, director, writer

Mozart's Magic Flute Diaries - based on the opera 'The Magic Flute' by W A Mozart. Includes two documentaries: 'Filming Mozart's Magic Opera' and 'Secret Societies: Flute's Masonic Setting', plus opera music video, aria index, director's commentary, cast biographies, visions of Salzburg

Mozart's The Magic Flute - Full English Soundtrack Recording

23562 Stereo FIRST RELEASE 62'41" 2007 Sullivan Entertainment Inc

Colin Ainsworth, Tamino; Petra Notova, Pamina; Erin Windle, Queen of the Night; Curtis Sullivan, Sarastro; Olivier Laquerre, Papageno; Kelly Campbell, Papagena; Jennie Such, spectre; Vilma Vitols, spectre; Laura Pudwell, spectre; Music by W A Mozart; Music composed, adapted and conducted by Peter Breiner; Libretto by Emanuel Sckikaneder; Screen libretto by Kevin Sullivan

Overture; The Three Specters Slay The Dragon; Fanfare; A Merry Bird Guy; I Now Have Hope; The Queen of the Night Arrives; To Tell the Truth; Man & Wife; Patience, Prudence & Persistence; The Wise Flute; End All Our Troubles; Sarastro the Mighty; Entre'acte; Be My Pretty Little Wife; The Strong vs the Weak; The Queen's Revenge; Within These Sacred Boundries; All is Lost Forever; Joy Shines; Oh Brother, Be Our Fellow; Sarastro Must Yield; Magic Bells Bring Me a Wife; We'll Have Many Children; Triumph!; The Glory of Light; Tamino's Final Trial; Lux Veritatis; Underground Salzburg; Northern Lights and Papageno's Magic; The Electric Magic Flute


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