Kenneth Branagh on his long-lost 'Magic Flute' opera film finally coming to U.S. theaters

“It’s almost incomprehensible to me that I’m talking to you seven years after we made this film,” says Kenneth Branagh. In 2006 the Oscar-nominated director was approached by Sir Peter Moors — “an extraordinary artistic patron” — to make a film version of Mozart’s famed The Magic Flute. “It was an entire surprise to me to be asked to do it,” Branagh says. “I’m by no means an opera buff.”

Actor/writer/performer Stephen Fry (whom Branagh refers to as “a very funny and brilliant man”) came aboard and took charge of the libretto, which transports the opera to the first World War. “This was a profound and tragic conflict, which killed young men and scarred a landscape across an entire continent. A historical event in which the conflict between good and evil, the light and the dark, really resonates, I think, with the thematic values of The Magic Flute.

The film (see trailer below) was released in Europe in 2006-07, but now American audiences will finally get to see it: the film opens in 150 theaters tomorrow, June 9, with encore screenings on Tuesday, June 11. (For individual theaters and showtimes, click here.)

Even if you are unfamiliar with The Magic Flute, you may be surprised as to how much you’d actually recognize from the opera. “I came to [direct this] not really knowing much about opera. I played a recording of The Magic Flute, and thought, ‘I know these tunes.’ I’m very familiar with these in the same way as one is surprised, as I am still surprised, when I go and see a Shakespeare play. I went to a production of Othello the other evening and I found myself stupidly coming away going, ‘God, that play is full of quotes,’” Branagh says with a laugh. “And The Magic Flute is full of phrases and tunes where you go, I know that tune. Mozart had a tremendously fertile and creative ear for a catchy tune. In his case, ‘catchy’ meant not only one you could hum along with but one that genuinely gets under your skin.”

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