By Lynne Gray, PhD
Please note this can be seen at www.metopera.org
Sunday, June 28
Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte ~ 3 Hrs.
Starring Golda Schultz, Kathryn Lewek, Charles Castronovo, Markus Werba, Christian Van Horn, and René Pape, conducted by James Levine. From October 14, 2017.
One of Mozart’s final two operas (the other was La Clemenza de Tito that was streamed on June 8th) brings us a story on several levels – at once a mystical fable, an entertaining comedy, and a treatise on humanist beliefs wrapped in arcane Masonic imagery. And even more, it is one of the greatest demonstrations in the repertoire of Mozart’s miraculous musical and theatrical powers. No matter how you approach or interpret this story, it transports you into its unique, enchanted world, and like the magic flute of its title, has the power to “transform sorrow” and “increase joy and contentment.” Julie Taymor’s wonderfully imaginative production and costumes also features a bevy of incredible, fanciful puppets she co-designed with Michael Curry.
Tenor Charles Castronovo stars as Tamino, the noble prince who goes on a quest to rescue the maiden Pamina, sung by beautiful soprano Golda Schultz in her Met-debut. Tamino befriends the lovable, self-indulgent bird catcher Papageno, sung by baritone Markus Werba, and with him encounters the forces of light, represented by bass René Pape’s benevolent Sarastro, and darkness, embodied by soprano Kathryn Lewek’s hair-raising Queen of the Night. Maestro James Levine is on the podium to lead this spectacular production of another great Mozart masterpiece.
The work is in the form of a Singspiel (song-play) – a popular art form during the time it was written. It includes both singing and spoken dialogue which let Mozart and his multi-talented librettist, Emanuel Schikaneder (who actually was also the first Papageno!), put their imaginations and artistry into a less rigid format than that allowed by a classical opera. The composer and the librettist were both Freemasons—the fraternal order whose membership is held together by shared moral and metaphysical ideals independent of religion. Masonic imagery is used throughout the work, in fact, Freemasonry describes itself as a “‘beautiful system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols” – exactly what is presented in this opera. The libretto specifies Egypt as the location of the action, as Egypt was traditionally regarded as the legendary birthplace of the Masonic fraternity, whose symbols and rituals permeate this opera.
The story begins as Tamino is pursued by a giant serpent and is crying “Zu Hilfe! Zu Hilfe!” (help me, help me) before he passes out from exhaustion and fear. He is saved just in time by the three Ladies of the Night who proceed to squabble over which one gets to stay with the handsome young prince while the others go and alert their Queen. They can’t agree and so all decide to go. The birdcatcher, Papageno wanders onto the scene “Der Vogelfänger bin ich ja” (The birdcatcher am I) just as Tamino wakes up and has no trouble claiming credit for slaying the dragon. The Ladies return however and padlock his mouth for lying. They show Tamino a portrait of their Queen’s daughter, Pamina whom they say has been imprisoned by the evil Sarastro. Of course, it is love at first sight “Dies Bildnis is bezaubernd schön” (This image is enchantingly beautiful). The Queen arrives and promises Tamino that Pamina will be his if he can only rescue her from the demon Sarastro “O zittre nicht, mein lieber Sohn” (Oh, tremble not, my beloved son) which he immediately promises to do.
Papageno is ‘convinced’ to accompany Tamino on his quest, and the Ladies present Tamino with a magic flute that can change sorrow (or anger) to joy. They give Papageno a set of magic bells which will allow him to call for help whenever it is needed. They set out with help of three child-spirits to guide them. The scene switches to Sarastro’s domain where Pamina is being dragged into a room by a lustful Monostatos (overseer of Sarastro’s servants) and his henchmen after her latest failed escape attempt. They chain her and leave her alone with Monostatos. Meanwhile, Tamino and Papageno have become separated and Papageno wanders into the room badly frightening the cowardly bully, Monostatos but being equally frightened himself. After an amusing standoff, Monostatos escapes and Papageno tells Pamina about Tamino who is on his way to rescue her. Meanwhile, the spirits have led Tamino to the Temple doors where he is introduced to the light and presented with the choice between good and evil.
There are many more adventures and many more musical, dramatic and scenic highlights to come – misunderstandings, attempted suicides narrowly averted, magical creatures and incredible special effects, in addition to Mozart’s amazing music: Sarastro’s resonant bass voice invoking of the gods Isis and Osiris, asking them to protect Tamino and Pamina as they undergo the ordeals that will lead to enlightenment, “O Isis und Osiris” (O Isis and Osiris); the Queen of the Night’s second spectacular coloratura rant “Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen” (Hell’s vengeance boils in my heart) as she gives Pamina a dagger and orders her to kill Sarastro; Sarastro’s “In diesen heil’gen Hallen” (Within these sacred halls) when he assures Pamina that there is no space for revenge or cruelty in his domain; Tamino and Pamina’s successful completion of the trials together and, of course, Papageno’s miserable failure in the trials but happy union with his Papagena, “Pa–, pa–, pa–” – a delightfully amusing happy ending as The Queen of the Night and Monostatos receive their just desserts.
Another truly innovative and satisfying production for the entire family!
1. Golda Schultz as Pamina and Charles Castronovo as Tamino in the Met’s production of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” in 2017. Photo Credit: Richard Termine/Metropolitan Opera.
2. Kathryn Lewek as the Queen of the Night in Mozart’s “Die Zauberflöte” at the Metropolitan Opera. Photo: Richard Termine / Metropolitan Opera.
3. Greg Fedderly as Monostatos and Golda Schultz as Pamina in Mozart’s “Die Zauberflöte” at the Met. Photo Credit: Richard Termine / Metropolitan Opera.
4. Markus Werba as Papageno with Julie Taymor puppets in Mozart’s “Die Zauberflöte” at the Met. Photo Credit: Richard Termine / Metropolitan Opera.
5. Markus Werba as Papageno with Julie Taymor puppets in Mozart’s “Die Zauberflöte” at the Met. Photo Credit: Richard Termine / Metropolitan Opera.
6. Markus Werba as Papageno and Ashley Emerson as Papagena in the Met’s production of Mozart’s “Die Zauberflöte”. Credit…Sara Krulwich/The New York Times.
7. René Pape as Sarastro in Julie Taymor’s Met production of Mozart’s “Die Zauberflöte.” Photo Credit: Beth Bergman / Metropolitan Opera