Happy birthday, Mozart!
Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) is today his most popular stage piece, and one of the most popular “operas” in the repertoire. The scare quotes are necessary because it is not really an opera in the proper sense, but a Singspiel, something like an eighteenth-century analogue of a stage musical today. It is immensely popular because it is fun, lively, and full of beautiful, memorable music, including, in the Queen of the Night’s aria, one of the greatest show-stopping virtuoso vocal pieces known to man.
I am not going to try to summarize the plot, nor even to situate the highlight clips below, mostly because I am unable to state, even approximately, what happens. The whole thing is one great dramatic mish-mash, with the exposed seams running every which way. I’ve listened to it many times, and seen it staged once, and I don’t really know what it is about. I am just happy that Papageno finds his Papagena in the end.
Speaking of which, here is a wonderful sequence: Papageno’s suicide cut short by the arrival of Papagena. The “Pa- Pa- Pa- Pa-” section is what I always think of first when I think of Die Zauberflöte, and it never fails to bring a smile to my face. This clip is taken from Ingmar Bergman’s Swedish-language film Trollflöjten, which I have seen, and which I greatly enjoyed (and which still did not help me to understand the story). Bergman is not usually noted for his comedic spirit, but this is pure delight. I like how he takes her clothes off.
(A longer clip, including the hilarious suicide attempt that precedes the section shown above, can be seen here, although without subtitles.)
Die Zauberflöte is not all humour and light charm, although those are my favourite parts of it. Mozart also introduced music of real dramatic weight, and a good example is “Pamina’s lament”, Ach ich fuhl’s. It is sung here by the great Lucia Popp. (The aria begins at 0:50 in this clip.)
Since I alluded to the Queen of the Night’s aria already, I suppose that I should also include it here as a highlight. It is so well known — in its standard version — that it hardly seems worthwhile. But perhaps fewer have heard the highly non-standard version sung by the inimitable Florence Foster Jenkins, whose operatic career, like the proverbial meteor, was short but dazzling. If you’re drinking something, set it down. Here we go. (Thanks to Sony’s lawyers, the video is un-embeddable.)
This occasional “Great moments in opera” series has now covered six of Mozart’s mature operas, and I do believe that that is enough for the present. Next time I shall move on to another composer, though I know not whom.