FILM : Comic Opera in ‘Mozart Brothers’

<i> Mark Chalon Smith is a free-lance writer who regularly covers film for The Times Orange County Edition. </i>

Anyone who loves opera, and especially those firebrand directors who live to take chances with the classics, should appreciate the humor in Suzanne Osten’s clever “The Mozart Brothers.”

The little-noticed 1986 Swedish release, screening Friday as the latest installment in the UC Irvine Film Society’s “offbeat” series, gives a jab to the ribs of both the stuffy (but majestic) conventions of opera and those avant-garde artists (like Peter Sellars) who desperately want to revitalize it, no matter what the cost.

The small tornado at the movie’s center is Walter (Etienne Glaser, who also wrote the screenplay), a passionate maverick in charge of staging a new production of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni.”

He greets his horrified cast with this declaration: “I don’t like singing, and I hate opera!” and later points out that he is infuriated by theater “that doesn’t understand silence” and is marred by “exits and entrances for no reasons whatsoever.”


Osten and Glaser, of course, are mocking Walter and his pretensions. How else to explain his innovations, like asking his singers to perform bald or reinventing the opera’s setting as a boggy cemetery?

Although his point of view is clearly misguided, Walter begins to win us over with his energy and unflappable single-mindedness. Even his cast begins to fall under his sway, agreeing to perform exercises designed to develop their erotic sides. It can all get pretty foolish, but it’s very funny as well.

To give some perspective to all the cockeyed goings-on, Osten places the ghost of Mozart (Philip Zanden) himself in the background, watching everything with a bemused air. Even he seems beguiled by all the overwrought imaginings.

What: Suzanne Osten’s “The Mozart Brothers.”


When: Friday, May 17, at 7 and 9 p.m.

Where: UC Irvine’s Student Center Crystal Cove Auditorium.

Whereabouts: Take the San Diego (405) Freeway to Jamboree Road and head south. Go east on Campus Drive to Bridge Road. Take Bridge Road into the campus.

Wherewithal: $4.

Where to Call: (714) 865-3679.