Friday, April 29, 2011

THE MAGIC FLUTE in Pop Culture

The Magic Flute is one of the operas with tunes so catchy and recognizable, even those who have never seen a performance of it have probably heard its music. Whether it’s the overture played as background music at the mall on an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or a music box on an episode of House bringing Papageno’s "Das klinget so herrlich" front and center, The Magic Flute is definitely in the pop culture landscape.

In 1995, Disney released Operation Dumbo Drop, a (family-friendly) movie starring Danny Glover, Ray Liotta, and Denis Leary about an Army mission to deliver an elephant to a village during the Vietnam War. The over-the-top plot also features a moment in which one character sings along, horribly, to the Queen of the Night’s famous aria, “Der Hölle Rache”:

"Der Hölle Rache" was also discussed in a 2009 episode of the CW’s popular Gossip Girl TV series, during the second season episode “You’ve Got Yale!” in which the main characters attend a performance of The Magic Flute. Opera is mentioned throughout the episode, and this short video features a few notable references (embedding is disabled, but clicking the photo will take you to YouTube to watch):

In these clips, the anonymous Gossip Girl compares the drama of the main characters to Flute; Dan and Nate talk about going to the opera, and make a bonus reference to The Ring; and Eric breaks down Magic Flute to opera newbie Rufus, while they listen to "Der Hölle Rache." By the way, we definitely disagree with Eric’s assertion that Flute is "opera for amateurs." While it's a great introduction to those unfamiliar with opera, there's something for everyone in this Mozart masterpiece.

More recently in film, that same aria was included in the soundtrack for Eat Pray Love, released last year and starring Julia Roberts. It was an interesting choice of music, considering the context: this very German aria is played to highlight the joy Roberts' character is experiencing while traveling through Italy and savoring Italian cuisine. See the clip below.

Flute's music has also been in numerous commercials, for everything from cars to macaroni and cheese. Papageno might enjoy Red Bull based on its "Red Bull gives you wings" slogan, but we bet he wasn’t so pleased with the outcome of this clever commercial for the energy drink, featuring Papageno’s entrance aria “Der Vogelfänger Bin Ich Ja” (“I’m a bird catcher”):

In 2006, Kenneth Branagh made a film adaptation of The Magic Flute that set 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 made specifically for the big screen (in 1975, Ingmar Bergman created a wonderful made-for-TV version). Branagh's Magic Flute screened at the Toronto International Film Festival, but has been largely overlooked since its release, and there doesn't appear to be a U.S. edition of the DVD yet. For now, 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 music that has been referenced in film and TV over the years. Several movies, for example, have featured plot lines involving magical flutes--like the 1976 animated film The Smurfs and the Magic Flute. Set in the Middle Ages, the movie focuses on a court jester who discovers a magic flute that, when played, makes the townspeople dance uncontrollably. Sounds innocent enough--until a thief snatches away the flute and uses its powers to rob people of their gold. It's not quite the same adventure as in Mozart's opera, but it's a magic flute nonetheless!

The entire movie is available for viewing on YouTube.

Have you noticed nods toward Flute that we haven't yet mentioned? We'd love to know, so please share them in the comments!


  1. Sorry, but I must take issue with the statement "In 2006, Kenneth Branagh brought The Magic Flute to movie theater screens for the first time"

    I remember very well my first introduction to this opera, Bergman's "Trollflöjten". (see:

  2. Hello! Yes, you're right about Bergman's great version, which was a made-for-television film. What we should have said was the Branagh's "Magic Flute" is the first time a film version of the opera was made specifically for the big screen. We'll re-word our blog post to reflect this--thanks so much for the feedback!

  3. Bergman uses a scene from "The Magic Flute" in his film "The Hour of the Wolf" that starts right around 5:30 in this YouTube clip. It has a nice little explanation of at least one interpretation of the scene.

  4. Love to read such a great blog on flute music! I love it!