Magic Moments of Music: Franco Zeffirelli’s La Bohème

Magic Moments of Music: Franco Zeffirelli’s La Bohème

Magic Moments of Music: Franco Zeffirelli's La Bohème

A film by Anaïs Spiro, ZDF/arte und UNITEL, 43 min.

This magic moment with music by Giacomo Puccini and artworks by Zeffirelli opens a window into the tender and melancholically intimate story of Mimì in bohemian Paris. The studio-made opera film was the first musical to be directed by Herbert von Karajan and was Franco Zeffirelli’s first opera film production. 

Zeffirelli’s production of La Bohème at La Scala in Milan was such a resounding success that Herbert von Karajan and Zeffirelli were compelled to turn it into an opera film. The soundtrack, featuring the choir and orchestra of the Milan Scala and the renowned ensemble of Mirella Freni, Gianni Raimondi, Rolando Panerai, Ivo Vinco, Gianni Maffeo, Adriana Martino, was recorded first. The stage was recreated in a film studio and the  production was shot in Technicolor – the best film technology available at the time.  The young Mirella Freni, who sang the role of Mimì for over 50 years, gained fame the world over, not least because of her natural and pure voice.

The screen adaptation of Puccini’s masterpiece of La Bohème was a bold attempt to marry the art of film with the opera stage. Zeffirelli’s staging and the film’s international success have made La Bohème one of the most-performed operas of all time. The original production has been revived again and again and is still performed today.

South African soprano Pretty Yende, who was a student of Mirella Freni and later sang in Franco Zeffirelli’s production of La Bohème, recounts her experiences with her mentor. As a very young tenor, Franco-Italian singer Roberto Alagna sang alongside Mirella Freni in the Zeffirelli production and is grateful to count himself among the great tenors, alongside Pavarotti and Carreras – thanks in large part to this performance of La Bohème.

Paul Dessau – Paul Dessau  Let’s hope for the Best

Paul Dessau – Paul Dessau Let’s hope for the Best

Der Komponist Paul Dessau - Von Hamburg über Hollywood in die DDR

Ein Film von Anne-Kathrin Peitz, 53 min., NDR/ARTE 2023

Paul Dessau (1894-1979) has been a violin prodigy, became Otto Klemperer’s assistant and finally an accomplished conductor. He wrote operetta and film music – from mountain films with Leni Riefenstahl by director Arnold Fanck to Walt Disney’s animated films. Born in Hamburg, he was a soldier in World War I and a Jewish exile in France and the USA in WWII. In Hollywood, he meanwhile worked on a chicken farm and wrote the sounds for some celluloid blockbusters as an anonymous “music slave” for the major studios.

As a convinced communist, Paul Dessau settled over to the GDR in 1948. He worked with Bertolt Brecht as well as his fourth wife, the stage directing idol Ruth Berghaus, and had a significant influence on the socialist music scene and stage art. He became a music teacher for children at his son Maxim’s school in Zeuthen. His works were taught in schools, his “Thälmann-Kolonne” became soon very popular, but at the same time he was condemned as a formalist because of his often idiosyncratic tonal language. He became a GDR state composer who was mainly celebrated on the outside, but sharply criticized on the inside.

With over 430 works to his name, Paul Dessau has been what a workaholic is being called, with his explosive, often unwieldy sound language an inconvenient man who wanted to change society and help shape it: “Music is not a medium for relaxation. Absolutely not. There are pills or walking for that, which is cheaper. Music is really exhausting – to make and to listen to.”

Who has this man of conviction been, who truly fought for musical innovation and clung to the communist idea with almost naïve steadfastness? Who was this person whose appearance could be just as ornery and edgy, witty and contradictory, laconic or loving as his music?


“Paul Dessau: Let’s hope for the best” by Anne-Kathrin Peitz sketches an artist’s life between conformity and repulsion, political idealism and musical individuality, in which the changeable German-German history of the 20th century is strikingly condensed as if under a burning glass.

The film portrait consciously traces the contradictions in Dessau’s character, life and work and embeds the man and his music in the historical context. The cinematic approach to the protagonist and his sound cosmos becomes a jigsaw puzzle, both literally and figuratively, whose individual – often disparate – pieces slowly come together to form an overall picture.

In staged concert scenes, artists translate his sound into body language and tongue-in-cheek cartoons his song humoresques into associative picture stories. Musicians play in quarries, orchestral works become music clips, pupils of the “Paul Dessau” comprehensive school in Zeuthen walk in the footsteps of their namesake. Historical recordings evoke the world and stations of Dessau’s life, and the composer himself has his say in rarely shown archive scenes. In addition, interview partners – from politician Gregor Gysi to former concert hall director Frank Schneider or the American jazz composer Jack Cooper as well as composer and pianist Steffen Schleiermacher – try to create a portrait of Paul Dessau not only with words, but actually by doing a puzzle.



In the Maze – The Musician Jörg Widmann

In the Maze – The Musician Jörg Widmann

In the Maze - The Musician Jörg Widmann

A film by Holger Preuße, 42 / 52min., BR/ARTE 2022

Music takes on a life of its own in the moment of writing, believes Jörg Widmann. It assumes its own form, becoming a living being that forges its own path. As such, it remains a fragment, because it is not what he, the writer, had intended.

For Widmann, the image that best describes this progression is a maze. Today, this has become the theme that runs through his life’s work, one that he has explored musically over the course of six distinct pieces. In the maze, one gets lost and bumps into things. There are moments “where it doesn’t go any further. And that is something that I often experience as problematic and very painful in composing. As happy as composing is.” Increasingly, he is led out of the maze of composing into which he has been drawn by his other role of clarinettist (for many years considered one of the world’s best) by his activities as a conductor.


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We follow Jörg Widmann into his maze, reaching for the thread that runs through his life and work. Together with him, we experience the ups and downs, the euphoric moments as well as the moments of crisis that are brought about by the process of writing. We encounter him backstage and on stage. And we discover that it is in fact a bundle of threads that intertwine to form a tangle, whereby the composer without the clarinettist, the conductor without the composer, or Jörg Widmann without the human, is inconceivable.

The film accompanies Jörg Widmann in the composition of his trumpet concerto “Towards Paradise (Labyrinth VI)”, commissioned by the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. We witness the piece take shape, from the first drafts to the premiere performance. As clarinettist and conductor, we see him at the Salzburg Festival, in the Boulez Hall and at the Konzerthaus Berlin, and experience this ‘universal musician’ alongside Daniel Barenboim (as pianist), with the celebrated violinist Anne Sophie Mutter, for whom he composed his String Quartet No. 6, and during a concert tour of Taiwan together with his sister, the violinist Carolin Widmann.

Music ex machina – Artificial intelligence in classical music

Music ex machina – Artificial intelligence in classical music

Music ex machina - Artificial intelligence in classical music

A film by Bernard Wedig and Stefan Pannen, 52min, WDR, 2023

Music created with the assistance of artificial intelligence is a well-established secret in the world of pop. Today, AI is also making serious inroads in the classical domain, bringing us to the threshold of a new era in classical music. From the recording of the first samples to the premiere performance at the Semperoper in Dresden, the film accompanies the creation of the opera “Chasing Waterfalls”, which was co-composed by artificial intelligence.

We follow the AI as it reconstructs Beethoven’s 10th symphony and watch it perform with Robbie Williams, and we see how pianist Dirk Maassen at the Sony Science Lab in Paris and saxophonist Asya Fateyeva at the Hochschule für Musik Nürnberg interact with AI in real time, and how Spanish professor Eduardo Miranda in Plymouth is using quantum computers to create music entirely from scratch.

Experts Kenza Ait Si Abbou and Christian Mio Loclair comment on these fascinating developments as well as the currently highly topical Chat GPT platform.

Sound World – A Year in the Karajan Academy

Sound World – A Year in the Karajan Academy

Klangwütig - Ein Jahr an der Karajan-Akademie

Ein Film von Isabel Hahn und Silvia Palmigiano, 52 min., ZDF/ARTE 2022

available until 20.01.2023 in the ZDF Media Library

Nodoka Okisawa, Sara Ferrández and Lennard Czakaj are 3 out of 30 musicians who have landed a coveted place at the Karajan Academy, the training school associated with the Berlin Philharmonic. This means lessons and concerts with one of the best orchestras in the world. But it also means great expectations and a lot of pressure.

Violist Sara dreams of a solo career and is working on her YouTube channel. She wants to give young people an understanding of classical music. She wants to break taboos – since there are too many conventions in classical music that don’t make sense to her. Trumpeter Lennard does not come from a family of musicians. He got his first trumpet from his parents when he was eight years old. At the time he had a guilty conscience because he knew that the instrument was very expensive. Since then he ha sputs all his eggs in one basket and is hoping for a position in the orchestra. He doesn’t have a plan B. Nodoka is expecting a baby. She is again confronted with something that, in her opinion, has no place in music: A female conductor is not always accepted, especially a pregnant one… But then on the podium she forgets everything – and levitates…