Director Kenneth Branagh arrives for a news conference to introduce his film 'The Magic Flute' at the Venice Film Festival, September 7, 2006. (Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters)In our ongoing Everything Happens in the Omniculture department, British filmmaker Kenneth Branagh has made a movie version of the Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart opera The Magic Flute, set in the trenches of World War I. The picture premiered yesterday at the Teatro La Fenice opera house in Venice. Reuters reports:

The $27 million production opens with Tamino as a soldier in the trenches and, instead of the snake that almost kills him in the original libretto he is pursued by a trail of mustard gas.

Papageno, the bird catcher, becomes the keeper of canaries used during the war to test for gas and the Queen of the Night’s triumphant first appearance is astride a tank.

"I was surprised when I first started listening to it (the opera) of the scale of it, the intensity of it, the drama of it," Branagh told reporters after a press screening of "The Magic Flute" at the Venice Film Festival.

"It seemed that in the music there was a kind of plea for peace and it evolved into a sense that perhaps this utterly fascinating and appalling situation of the First World War … was something where the music could meet and the one not overwhelm the other."

In the production notes for the film, Branagh also points out that the opera has been given other unusual settings:

"It’s been set on the moon, in the circus, at Stonehenge, on the beach, and Mozart can live in all of them," he said.

And so Tamino, Papageno and Pamina are caught between fighting factions led by the Queen of the Night and Sarastro in his bombed-out castle.

Computer-enhanced sequences soar over battlefields that conjure up the devastation in northern Europe during World War One and graveyards with row upon row of simple white tombstones that mark the battlefields today.

Branagh engaged comedian and writer Stephen Fry to translate the libretto into English, and says, "It would be so wonderful if we could get opera goers to come to the cinema and cinema goers to perhaps go to the opera as a result of seeing the film, if either is not something they normally do."

This sounds like one way of doing that, I suppose.