The Magic Flute
in the air
Well-loved opera being made into modern-day film
The Magic Flute offers its music as backdrop to story
Jun. 24, 2006. 09:43 AM
CLASSICAL MUSIC WRITER
Inside a tumbledown warehouse-cum-soundstage in a seedy corner of a declining industrial park at Warden and Eglinton Aves., there is magic being made amid a tangle of wires, lights, hastily assembled wooden structures, scaffolding and dozens of people running to and fro in a seemingly random manner.
Not just a film of Mozart's enduring masterpiece, this Magic Flute blends a modern-day tale of intrigue with music from the opera. It is also the first Canadian feature film to mix computer-generated imagery with live action.
Like the 2004 movie Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and 2005's Sin City, the backdrops in The Magic Flute are the product of electronic wizardry.
But the actors, assembled by Kevin Sullivan, who made his reputation with the Anne of Green Gables television series in the 1980s, are real, as are the singers.
In the movie, which goes into post-production later this month, a young singer (played by Warren Christie) is cast in the role of Prince Tamino for a Salzburg production of The Magic Flute. The role of Pamina has gone to an elusive young Eastern European soprano (local discovery Mireille Asselin). She is being kept away from the other cast members by a crazed musicologist (Rutger Hauer). Tamino takes on the perilous task of liberating her from this man's clutches.
The parallels with the opera are deliberate, says Sullivan. The filmmaker came up with the idea, wrote the screenplay, produced and directed, and turned to local talent for the musical heart of the story.
Various members of Opera Atelier, Toronto's gilded period-performance company, including the dance corps and co-artistic directors Marshall Pynkoski and Jeannette Zingg, made the transition from stage to screen.
Sullivan transformed part of the studio into a stage, decorated with Opera Atelier scenic artist Gerard Gauci's distinctive trompe l'oeil backdrops. Pynkoski, the company's tall, pony tailed, charismatic director, known for a wardrobe of tank tops and dark trousers, plays the opera director in the movie. That man is tall, pony tailed, charismatic and given to wearing tank tops and dark trousers.
Yet this was not an easy task for Pynkoski.
If putting on a play or opera is like slowly turning the pages in a giant illustrated book, then creating a movie is like trying to assemble a particularly difficult jigsaw puzzle. Many of the people involved in the making of the film may have no idea what the final product will look like once the theatre lights dim.
The fragmented way of shooting a few scenes at a time, and in no particular order, is alien to someone used to the linear flow of the stage.
Also unlike opera, the actor does not have to memorize pages and pages of dialogue. "All the lines are fed to you," says Pynkoski. "You don't even have to have read the entire screenplay.
"I read it and, frankly, (The Magic Flute) made little sense. In opera, there are all of these elaborate instructions. On the film script, there is very little information.
"I'm so familiar with opera as an art form," says Pynkoski inside the helter-skelter world of the soundstage. He looks around. "But this, I don't really know what this is."
A majority of the film's scenes have been shot in front of a "green screen." It's an ugly, medium-bright shade that doesn't occur in nature, or on people's bodies or costumes. This makes it easy for computer animators to remove the background and splice in something else.
Mozart opera film
shoots in T.O.
By STEVE TILLEY - Toronto Sun
TORONTO - If computers can be used to create an entire virtual metropolis of sleaze in Sin City, then surely they can help transport a slice of stately Salzburg to the dusty fringes of Toronto.
With that in mind, filmmaker Kevin Sullivan figured if you can't take your feature film production of The Magic Flute to Austria, then bring Austria to the production. Mozart -- if not Mohammed -- would be proud.
Shooting wrapped earlier this month on Sullivan's interpretation of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's beloved fairy-tale opera, shot largely against CGI-friendly green screen backdrops at Sullivan Entertainment's Scarborough production facility. It's slated for a theatrical release this November.
It will be the second take on The Magic Flute to hit theatres in 2006 -- the 250th anniversary of Mozart's birth -- after Kenneth Branagh's film of the same name premieres at the Venice International Film Festival in September.
But each director is taking a personal approach to the source material. Branagh has relocated the setting to World War I, while producer/director Sullivan's adaptation melds operatic flights of fancy with a contemporary storyline about a modern-day mounting of The Magic Flute.
As such, it also brings together accomplished actors (who have never sung opera) with opera performers (who have never stepped in front of a movie camera.)
"The way this is being done, it allows the opportunity to bring The Magic Flute to people who would not normally go out to an opera," said actor Warren Christie during a recent interview on the movie's set.
"It 'contemporizes' it," said Christie, who stars as Tamino in the film's opera-within-a-movie.
Sullivan's budget and timeframe could never have permitted cast and crew to shoot on location in Salzburg, Vienna and Munich. Instead, Toronto-based visual effects house Alumini Designs was brought on board to take high-definition photographs of various locations in Austria and Germany. The backdrops will then be digitally inserted into the film during post-production for a unique theatrical look.
"Sin City was done with computer graphics in the background, we're doing digital stills in the background," said visual effects supervisor Tony Willis.
"No one has really approached a film this way, ever, anywhere. It's actually unique, and we're attempting to do it on a pretty tight schedule and tight money."
Besides the use of green screens and digital wizardry, The Magic Flute does have one other thing in common with the hyper-violent cinematic comic book that is Sin City: Rutger Hauer is in both films.
Hauer plays Dr. Richard Nagel, a scholar of music who trains a captive diva (opera soprano Mireille Asselin) in The Magic Flute's arias. It's a wholly new character imagined by Sullivan for this adaptation.
"There are two realities in the film. Mine I want to make as real as I can," Hauer said. "I take the opera out of my reality."
For Hauer, whose storied three-decade career has had a resurgence of late with appearances in blockbuster fare like Batman Begins, acting in front of green screens is nothing new.
"I think you have to use your imagination a little more, but that's not hard for me," he said.
"It's kind of interesting to know that they can still just artificially change the environment, totally. And I like that idea. I love that about film."
Asselin, in her final undergraduate year at Toronto's Royal Conservatory of Music, was apprehensive about making her film debut opposite an actor of Hauer's experience. But she said he ultimately made her performance better.
"It was so fantastic to see how he worked out a scene and to be able to collaborate with him," said Asselin, who will also perform in Opera Atelier's stage production of The Magic Flute this fall.
"He really keeps you on your toes, because you never know how he'll deliver a scene and you need to keep up."
With principal photography completed, The Magic Flute now enters a hectic period of editing and post-production, completing the 200 special effects needed for the film's otherworldly backdrops and settings.
If it all comes together, though, Hauer said The Magic Flute could help bring Mozart to the masses.
"I hope they can make it rock," he said.
July 10, 2006
Film and TV Production
Sullivan feels the Magic
by Sean Davidson
Toronto: The "lavishness and eccentricity" of the 18th century will be center stage in The Magic Flute, a magical realist take on the Mozart opera now in the works at Toronto's Sullivan Entertainment (Wind at My Back).
The feature - penned, directed and produced by Sullivan boss Kevin Sullivan - follows a young man who is hired, along with his girlfriend, to perform in the famous opera in Salzberg, Austria. Once there, however, he is lured into the criminal underworld by a mysterious diva and "real life" gets jumbled up with that of the stage.
"Reality starts to butt up against fantasy and it's hard to tell which side of the fence you're on," says Sullivan.
Warren Christie (10.5, This Space for Rent) appears along with opera singers Mireille Asselin and Erin Windle, and Rutger Hauer (Sin City).
The footage from the now-wrapped Toronto shoot, much of it in front of a green screen, will be CG'ed together with location shots of Vienna and Salzberg, with Thom Best (Billable Hours) as DOP and effects by Tony Willis (Evel Knievel, Saint Ralph).
The end result will have a highly stylized CG look, says Sullivan, akin to Moulin Rouge or Sin City - highlighting the look and feel of the time.
"It's not really an opera. It's more like a musical," he says. "Audiences today aren't going to watch an aria that goes on for five minutes. They might watch 30 seconds or a minute if it's done with style and panache."
Which is where Opera Atelier comes in. The noted Toronto opera company is also part of the production - lending cast, costumes and crew to the show. Atelier's co-bosses Marshall Pynkoski and Jeannette Zingg also choreographed Flute's many dance numbers.
Source: Toronto Film
production has now wrapped on the 17-day shoot of director Kevin Sullivan's
Papageno Productions update of the classic Mozart opera, The Magic Flute,
starring actor Rutger "Blade Runner" Hauer as 'Dr. Nagel'.
Other members of the Canadian cast include Warren Christie as 'Tom/Tamino', Mireille Asselin as 'The Girl/Pamina', Oliver Laquerre as 'Papageno' and Curtis Sullivan as 'Sarastro'. Also appearing are members of Canada's Opera Atelier.
Composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, wrote The Magic Flute in 1791, immediately after the French Revolution, and just before he died. Fellow composer Haydn had previously introduced Mozart to Freemasonry, and the opera is full of the ideas (the autonomy of the individual), the ideals (power, wisdom, beauty), and the symbols (aprons, hammers, compasses, a pyramid with an all-seeing eye) of the Masons.
Sullivan is noted as the producer of the 'Anne of Green Gables' TV series Road To Avonlea.