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The Transformation of the World Into Music (1996)

Die Verwandlung der Welt in Musik: Bayreuth vor der Premiere (original title)
This film was prepared as a introduction to a series of opera broadcasts on German television. It depicts the behind-the-scenes maneuverings in preparation for the annual opera festival in ... See full summary »

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Dieter Dorn ...
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Paul Frey ...
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Sven Friedrich ...
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Siegfried Jerusalem ...
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Eva Johansson ...
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Werner Junold ...
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James Levine ...
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Waltraud Meier ...
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Heiner Müller ...
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Deborah Polaski ...
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This film was prepared as a introduction to a series of opera broadcasts on German television. It depicts the behind-the-scenes maneuverings in preparation for the annual opera festival in Bayreuth. Written by Denis Le Cam

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21 July 1996 (Germany)  »

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The Transformation of the World Into Music  »

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a very rare find for Herzog fans, and a good treat for fans of opera
22 May 2007 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

Staging an opera is always a daunting feat, which is what Werner Herzog documents in The Transformation of the World into Music. It didn't necessarily make me much more of a fan of opera than I already am, which is not by much at all; Wagner, even with his unfortunate connotations with the Nazis and Hitler, is skilled at making stirring orchestral movements, though all of the huge movements in song and prose just don't strike a huge chord emotionally for me. Still, it's rather impressive to see Herzog take on the sides of history involving Wagner, one of Germany's most important historical figures (as we see from actual pieces from his old house, and original music sheets), of the nature of putting on an opera over a hundred years old, on the fronts of acting and singing (where to lay down, or not to lay down, on a stage, or how to hold a sword in a scene, is crucial), of a chorus and orchestra fully in tune and emotionally correct, and Wagner as a sort of tarnished figure in classical music.

It's a wise choice Herzog takes in only briefly, late in the film, to cover Wagner's tie-in with the Nazis and Hitler, and how it's sort of ruined his reputation with some groups in the world forever. But it gives just the slightest note of context, as what Herzog is after anyway is not a full-on history lesson but an immersion in getting this "world" ready in costumes, in lighting, in special effects (one cool scene shows Herzog himself directing a kid and his role in coming out of a blue fog effect on stage), and in the people on the sidelines, like the theater's fire chief who's been there since his youth (that's one of the best scenes in the picture, with just the right level of heart and classic Herzog nuttiness). Unfortunately though for most Herzog fans, this is almost TOO ultra-rare a find; it's likely not available much in bootlegs, and the screening that I saw it at was at a retrospective that had the film personally subtitled. But if you can find it somehow, and are up on your German, it's worth a viewing as the filmmaker actually keeps a pretty good hold on his subject, making it accessible for viewers who might usually be caught sleeping during an opera. 7/10


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