Dir: Ron's Least Favorite Director (Hour of the Wolf; Persona; Scenes From a Marriage; The Virgin Spring; Cries and Whispers; Fanny and Alexander; Wild Strawberries)
Bergman's straight-up television staging of Mozart's comedic opera, I see this film like a great musician who does an album of her favorite covers. Bergman is urging us to reconnect with narratives of old, and is using his fame to present the classic essentially unadulterated. He can put whatever he wants on Swedish TV and millions will watch, so he chooses an opera. It would be a mistake to put this film in the same conversation with Ingmar's own works, this is Mozart first and foremost. And since the work is, of course, one of genius, The Magic Flute should be sought out by those with a curiosity about opera.
This is not to say that Bergman brings no value added. His fascination with the medium of film, so self refexlive about the artificiality of his own films, is echoed here in his foregrounding of the theatrical elements of the opera. The entire overture is played behind reaction shots from an assembled audience. Every possible type of human is represented (old and young, rich and poor, etc.) but most especially a little girl that Bergman returns to throughout the performance. Her subtle smile at the fantastical story, full of comedy and magic, asks us to see the opera through her eyes.
The work is translated into Swedish, once again reinforcing the idea that Bergman wants to bring opera to the masses. The language fits the music quite well, and adds a note of novelty that is very welcome.
The opera itself is very intimate on the small screen, allowing for closeups and whispered sentences that would be impossible in an opera house. I must admit that Mozart's plot is a bit of a mess, but the music makes up for it. Operas are never known for their subtle character development and paint with very broad brushes.
Certainly at the bottom of your Bergman must-see list. But the film does serve as a user-friendly introduction to the opera itself, which was Bergman's point. Watch for that reason.