Issue #7 of ANIMAFILM included an article about the Gianini/Luzzati feature, The Magic Flute. To keep the names of these greats in the present, I’m posting the article here. Enjoy.
by Massimo Maisetti
The “Magic Flute” was Mozart’s last opera, written not for the court theatre in the centre of Vienna, but for a theatre situated at the outskirts, whose manager was Schikaneder, author of the libretto. Giorgio Strehler said that it was one of the most complex and most universal works, which could be approached both from the position of the performer and the spectator. The libretto, inspired by oriental short stories, published in 1786, and by abbot Terrason’s novel, stirs up imagination, intelligence, feelings and the sense of ethics. Goethe wrote that one needed more culture to admit the values of the libretto than to deny their existence. This opinion should be thought over, as it deals with the performance staged at the outskirts in the period when to acknowledge values of a “folk” work was to oppose the accepted norms.
The opera, performed for the first time on September 30th, 1791, has many elements aimed at entertaining less sophisticated audience. Next to the drama of Tamino and Pamina, which is the embodiment of the eternal conflict between Right and Wrong, the Sun and Darkness, next to esoteric elements, connected with the doctrine of freemasons, which both Mozart and Schikaneder professed, there is a counterpoint – Papageno, a purely folk character from commedia dell’arte. The opera has many aspects, but the most visible ones are its fabulous and folk aspects, and next to them – metaphysical, symbolic and cosmic aspects with their Egyptian and Hellenistic associations, making one “gravitate towards one’s conscience”, according to Kirkegaard’s words. Thus to screen the “Magic Flute” was a very difficult task, as the authors of the film rejected the possibility of screening the theatre performance. It was also difficult because they had to use a chromatic and graphic language, animating drawings, where culture and experience should be combined with great sensitiveness and invention.
Giulio Gianini and Emanuele Luzzati are among the few film-makers in the world, who can perform such a task successfully. Gianini is an animator. He is an organizer, who is able to subordinate the technique to creative requirements. His characters move like puppets against the scenography. Its colour scheme is joy, music and charm. Those colours are the invention of the scenographer Luzzati, and Gianini, the master of photography (Nastro d’Argento for best colour photography in 1952), can reproduce them using his miraculous alchemic recipes. It was not a mere chance that many years ago at the Festival in Gildenbourgh he worked on Mo/art’s operas: “Don Juan”, “Abduction from Serai”, “Cos! fan Tutte” and “Magic Flute”. “I have always wanted to make such a film since the day I worked on that scenography”, says Luzzati. Twelve years of preparations, two years of work financed by the German and Austrian television, work done with patience, skill and imagination. At least three of Gianini’s and Luzzati’s films, first films of that kind, are characterized by a perfect relation between the music and the image: “La Gazza ladra”, “L’ltaliana in Algeri” and “Pulcinella”, where the charming music happily underlines the fancy, lyrical approach and ironical reserve.
All this was expressed with the help of images in an apologue, in a stylistically sophisticated way. The above mentioned films are among the most interesting effects of using the technique of “decoup-age” in the history of animated cartoons, especially animated fairy tales. Both Gianini and Luzzati turned out to be great artists in synchronizing movements with the music of the three operas and creating three symphonies of lines and colours. Kings, soldiers, Moors, dragons and birds from those beautiful stories, created by Luzzati’s imagination come alive thanks to Gianini’s technique and move in the rhythm, forced upon them by the music and often interpret the music with the help of ballet. In this sense Rossini’s operas helped in the realization of the “Magic Flute”.
Mickey Rose, an English musicologist, made a fifty minute-long abbreviation of the opera, performed by Berlin Philharmonic, conducted by Karl Boehm, preserving its most vital elements. At the same time the graphics enriches fantastic and folk aspects with expression. It was done with charm, amazing clearness and respect for the music. When the artists use the technique of decoupage paper becomes gold, glass becomes diamond and colours become rich and luminous, like Mozart’s music. It reminds us of such great modern painters as Rouault, Chagall, Picasso, Kandinsky, as well as of oriental wall paintings, Byzantine mosaics, story, creating a naturally composed style, rich in different shades, -where a brilliant visual side interprets and completes Mozart’s wonderful music. Finally the fairy tale aspect predominates over the symbolic aspect, also due to the character of Papageno, who plays a double role: of a paper character and a live narrator (actor Marcello Bartoli). This character in multicoloured feathers reminds its famous classic ancestors. The grandson of Harlequin and Pulcinella becomes the hero of the story, determining its character. Thus the romantic story of Tamino and Pamina concentrates the philosophic sense, which is shown in the form of a fairy tale, and is meant for a demanding audience. But the simple first layer of the film pleases children, like the films “Turandot” and “L’Augellin Belverde”, screened by Gianini and Luzzati in a similar style and technique. About seventy thousand photograms with their immobile and mobile parts, three hundred drawings of the background, creative power and enthusiasm of the authors make a work of art, which is a credit to the Italian cartoon film and deserves emotions, enthusiasm and approval.