Christmas break is an occasion when family members can spend time together. Most of the people are off from their work or schools. During that time New York City offers great shows to entertain families. We enjoyed “The Magic Flute,” a famous opera by the great musician Mozart at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. We, along with our son, daughter-in-law and two young grand-daughters had a great time.
Even though this was an abridged kids-friendly version of 100-minutes opera, the music, the performance, the dialogues, the dances, the costumes, and the stage settings were superb and most enjoyable. Who was Mozart?
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791) lived only for 35 years, but he was a prolific and influential composer of the Western Classical Music. Within a short span of his life he composed over 600 works, many acknowledged as pinnacles of symphonic, concert-ante, chamber, operatic, and choral music. The famous musician Beethoven composed his early works in the shadow of Mozart. Another great musician Joseph Haydn wrote about Mozart that “posterity will not see such a talent again in 100 years.” Haydon wrote to Mozart’s father in 1785, “I tell you before God, and as an honest man, your son is the greatest composer known to me by person and repute, he has taste and what is more the greatest skill in composition.”
Mozart showed prodigious ability from his earliest childhood. He composed at the age of 5 and he performed his composition before European royalty. At the age of 17 he was a court musician in Salzburg. During his final years in Vienna, he composed many of his best-known symphonies, concertos, and operas.
The Magic Flute: Mozart experienced great satisfaction in the public success of some of his work. “The Magic Flute” opera is one of these works which was performed several times between its premiere (September 30, 1791) and his death (December 5, 1791). Mozart conducted the premiere of “The Magic Flute.” This opera is in a popular form (called Singspiel) that includes both singing and spoken dialogue.
On the reception of the opera, Mozart scholar Maynard Solomon Write, “Although there were no previews of the performances, it was immediately evident that Mozart and Schikaneder (the main actor in the premier and followed up performances) had achieved a great success, the opera drawing immense crowds and reaching hundreds of performances during 1790s.” The opera celebrated its 100th performance in November 1792, but unfortunately Mozart did not live long enough to witness it. An expert says that since its premiere “The Magic Flute” has always been one of the most beloved works in the operatic repertoire and is presently the fourth most frequently performed opera worldwide.
The plot of “The Magic Flute”: The story takes place in a mythical land between the sun and the moon. The Queen of the Night sends a handsome prince Tamino to free her daughter Pamina who was enslaved by the king Sarastro. A bird-catcher Papageno accompanies Tamino. Three ladies, helpers of the Queen, give a magic flute to Tamino and silver bells to Papageno to ensure their safety on the journey.
They encounter Sarastro’s slave Monostatos who wanted to marry Pamina. The magic flute and the siver bells help Tamino and Papageno in several critical life-threatening occasions. Sarastro punishes Monostatos and tells Pamina that he will eventually set her free. Sarastro tells Pamina that he is only wishing her happiness and he does not want to return her to her mother who is a proud, headstrong woman, and a bad influence in the society.
Tamino learns from the priests of the temple of Sarastro that the Queen of the Night is evil and not Sarastro. Actually, Sarastro wanted Tamino to go through “the trials of wisdom” to become a worthy husband of Pamina and wanted the couple (Tamino & Pamina) to eventually take over from him as rulers of the temple. The priests test Tamino and Papageno. Tamino takes the challenges of the trials and proves that he can control his senses and his mind, he is fearless, and he wants wisdom and unselfish love. Papageno reluctantly accepts the trials but fails to control his mind and senses.
The priests congratulate Tamino for successfully passing the tests. Meanwhile the Queen of the Night attacks Sarastro, but she gets defeated. Sarastro does not believe in revenge and he pardens the Queen. At the end, Sarastro announces the sun’s triumph over the night. Everyone praises the courage, self-control, patience, fearlessness, and wisdom of Tamino and Pamina and ask goddess Isis and god Osiris to bless this couple.
Note: The huge Metropolitan Opera House of New York was full. There was not a single dull moment in the performance. Several Papageno’s dialogues were hilarious. Singing was enchanting. One can read the words of the singing and the dialogues in the small screen set at the back of the front seat.
Opera singers’ range of singing and the swiftness were amazing, especially the singing and the pitch range of the Queen of the Night. It seems she had swallowed piano! The Queen of the Night’s song “The vengeance of Hell boils in my heart” reaches a high F6 and at the low end, the part of Sarastro includes a conspicuous F in few locations.
Striking points of “The Magic Flute”:
The following are few thoughts which came to my mind while watching the performance of “The Magic Flute.”
1. The story of “The Magic Flute” portrays the education of mankind, going from religious superstition to rationalistic enlightenment. The ultimate goal is to make “the Earth a heavenly kingdom and mortals like the gods.” This is a couplet in a song. Swami Vivekananda used to say that each person has to be divine. When a person realizes one’s divinity and expresses it in one’s speech and actions, then the kingdom of heaven comes on the earth for him/her.
2. We find that virtues and virtuous people are important all over the world at all times. The priests’ testing of Tamino’s patience, love for wisdom, self-control, and fearlessness emphasizes the importance of virtues needed to be a worthy person and a leader.
3. Tamino represents an ideal of a human being. While Papageno represents a common man. Papageno was reluctant to go through the “trials of wisdom.” When he was asked, “Don’t you want wisdom?, he said, “I am a simple man. I just want food, water, wine and wife.” Papageno could not control himself. He broke all the vows. Having him on the side, Tamino’s character shined more. Papageno showed that the trials were not easy. One who succeeds has much stronger mind and a divine power.
4. Personally, the magic flute of Tamino reminded me of Lord Shri Krishna playing his flute. With his flute all people and animals around him used to get charmed. Simultaneously, the silver bells reminded me of Shri Radha. The bells of her anklets used to bring joy and happiness around.
5. Music really calms down the mind. It even changes the mind of evil people and ferocious animals. Music brings happiness and hope in life.
6. The light of the sun is considered the wisdom. In the last scene, due to the light effects and stage-setting you can feel that the sun is shining brightly in the auditorium and illumines everything. In Bhagavad Gita, Shri Krishna says that, “As the sun illumines the whole world, the Soul (Atman) illumines the whole body and the mind of a person.” (Gita 13.33). Similarly, Brahman, the Source of Life, illumines everything in the universe.
7. I realize the greatness of Mozart. Shri Krishna says in Bhagavad Gita, “Whatever is glorious or beautiful or wherever a mighty being exists, know that it has sprung from but a spark of My (God’s) splendor.” (Gita 10.41). God’s power manifests more through great personalities.