The Magic Flute director Florian Sigl on making a Harry Potter-esque fantasy

Most first-time directors take it a bit easy with their inaugural movies. Before he chronicled rampaging dinosaurs and killer sharks, Steven Spielberg made Duel, a simple movie about a man in a car being terrorized by a truck. Florian Sigl, however, isn’t afraid to dive into the deep end of the moviemaking pool. The neophyte filmmaker has just made The Magic Flute, an adaptation of Mozart’s famous opera that’s also an epic, Harry Potter-esque fantasy involving lots of complicated CGI special effects.

In a conversation with Digital Trends, Sigl talks about why he wanted to adapt an opera as a big-budget fantasy film, how he felt lucky to cast Jack Wolfe before his breakout role in season 2 of Shadow and Bone, and the challenges involved in combining opera and a giant green snake on film.

A boy and a girl look at a man in The Magic Flute.

Digital Trends: Normally when people think of The Magic Flute, they think of a stately, old-fashioned opera. What made you want to adapt Mozart’s masterpiece as a Harry Potter-esque fantasy?

Florian Sigl (director): Well, it’s a great opportunity to bring culture and classical music closer to a broader audience, especially because The Magic Flute already uses popular fantasy tropes like an evil queen or big monsters like a giant snake. I thought with the popularity of all the other fantasy stories now, there’s a good opportunity here to adapt The Magic Flute.

Most people have a hard time actually understanding The Magic Flute’s plot, especially after the first hour of the opera, so I added a little bit more structure (like the modern subplot set in the present) to draw in an audience that has no relation to or familiarity with classical music or Mozart’s Magic Flute.

It must be challenging — not only just for a first-time director, but for anybody — to make a musical just by itself or a special effects-driven fantasy. But you did both, which I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. How did you prep for both the fantasy elements that involved a lot of special effects and also the musical sequences in The Magic Flute?

It took some time for me to decide on which parts of the opera I wanted to keep and how I should integrate the music with the fantasy sequences. I was going back and forth a lot in making sure both sides fit together.

Take the snake sequence, which appears early in the movie. I knew what Tim (Jack Wolfe) is singing and what the music is going to be, and that’s what I used as a base to start from. I then started writing a basic story, then added storyboards, then animatics to visualize what the snake would look like, and then I consulted with the artist who designed the snake to make sure it looked right. Then I would go back to the music and check to see if it was syncing up to the action onscreen.

It was double the work for me because I had to balance everything out evenly. Not everything worked out from the very beginning as I hoped, and it was quite a challenge to combine those two disparate things. But I think, in some moments at least, it really works well.

Jack Wolfe looks concerned in The Magic Flute.

I wanted to talk about Jack Wolfe, who plays the film’s main character, Tim/Prince Tamino. What was it about Jack that made him the ideal lead for this version of The Magic Flute?

From a musical perspective, I was looking for a younger male voice who is not a classic tenor. If you go to any opera house and watch The Magic Flute, usually Prince Tamino is played by a man in his mid-30s to mid-40s who is a little heavier than usual. My Magic Flute, however, is a coming-of-age story. It’s about this prince finding his position in society. In our case, it’s Jack or Tim finding his place in the world, so he cannot be too old. He has to be younger.

I was also looking for an actor who had a background in attending a professional music school. And in the second casting round, I realized that Jack fit the role perfectly. He went to a music boarding school, he knows how painful it is to leave your family behind, like Tim does in the film, and he is a big musical nerd. [Laughs] I’m really happy that I found him when I did because he seems to be on the cusp of breaking out. He’s been in The Witcher and he’s in the next season of Shadow and Bone.

What was your favorite part about making The Magic Flute?

Well, because it was double the work, I had double the enjoyment in making it. I loved working with our ensemble. It was an amazing experience as a director to work with such a diverse cast. I got Academy Award winners like F. Murray Abraham, Game of Thrones actors like Iwan Rheon, and younger, lesser-known actors like Jack.

The other great thing about working on this film was getting to record for three straight weeks with the Mozarteum Orchestra Salzburg. That was just a dream. I mean, having your own orchestra for three weeks and recording a soundtrack for your first film? That was really cool.

The Magic Flute is currently playing in theaters.

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