The Magic Flute is one of those operas so recognizable, even those who have never had the pleasure of attending a performance have probably been exposed to the composition. It could be the overture hovering in the background at the mall on an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer,
or a music box on an episode of House using Papageno highlight "Das klinget so herrlich", The Magic Flute is definitely in the pop culture landscape.
In 1995, Disney released Operation Dumbo Drop, a family flick with Danny Glover, Ray Liotta, and Denis Leary going on an Army mission to bring an elephant to a village as the Vietnam War rages on aroung them. The movie also contains a scene in where one character sings along with (horribly) the Queen of the Night’s famous aria, “Der Hölle Rache”:
"Der Hölle Rache" was also utilized in a 2009 episode of the CW’s popular Gossip Girl TV series, during the second season episode “You’ve Got Yale!”, when the main characters attend a performance of The Magic Flute. Opera references are peppered throughout the episode, and the video features a few notable ones, including: the anonymous Gossip Girl comparing the drama of the main characters to Flute; Dan and Nate talking about going to the opera, and making a bonus reference to The Ring; and Eric breaks down Magic Flute to opera newbie Rufus, while they listen to "Der Hölle Rache."
For a recent movie reference, the same aria can be found in Eat Pray Love, starring Julia Roberts. It’s a fascinating choice of music: this German aria provides the soundtrack for the joy Roberts' character is experiencing while traveling through Italy and savoring Italian cuisine.
Flute's music has also scored many commercials, for products ranging from cars to macaroni and cheese. Papageno might enjoy Red Bull’s "Red Bull gives you wings" slogan, but he probably wouldn’t be so pleased with the outcome of this commercial for the popular energy drink, featuring Papageno’s aria “Der Vogelfänger Bin Ich Ja” (“I’m a bird catcher”):
In 2006, Kenneth Branagh adapted The Magic Flute, setting the story during World War I, with the German libretto translated to English by Stephen Fry, and music conducted by James Conlon. Branagh's film is the first time The Magic Flute was adapted with the silver screen in mind (in 1975, Ingmar Bergman made a made-for-TV version). Branagh's Magic Flute played the Toronto International Film Festival, but there’s no U.S. edition of the DVD yet. You can watch bits and pieces online, including the duet between Papageno and Papagena. Here's how Branagh filmed the overture:
It's not just The Magic Flute's classic arias that have been referenced on screens big and small over the years. Several movies have had plot lines involving magical flutes--like the 1976 animated film The Smurfs and the Magic Flute. Set in the Middle Ages, the movie’s central character is a court jester who discovers a magic flute whose music makes the townspeople dance uncontrollably. Innocent enough, until a thief snatches away the flute, intending to use its powers to rob people of their gold. It may not be exactly the same adventure as in Mozart's opera, but it's a magic flute all the same...
AVA’s Magic Flute opens April 29 at the Helen Corning Warden Theater. Call 215.735.1685 or visit www.avaopera.org for tickets.
Gabriella Balsam is a graduating senior majoring in advertising at Temple University and a marketing intern at AVA.