The Utah Opera Chorus announces auditions for the spectacular 2013/2014 Utah Opera season, which includes Verdi’s La Traviata, Puccini’s Turandot and Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio. In addition, the men of the chorus will perform Berlioz’s Damnation of Faust in concert with the Utah Symphony. The auditions will take place on April 16 and 18, 2013.
The acclaimed Utah Opera Chorus is an ensemble of local singers who provide the energetic choral voice of Utah Opera’s productions. Core singers participate in all productions involving chorus, and additional singers may participate in as few as one production per year. Chorus members are paid an honorarium for participation in each production.
Applicants should have strong vocal training and some stage experience. Audition requirements include one memorized aria or art song, and a sight-singing assessment. Contact Shaun Ricks at firstname.lastname@example.org to apply for an audition.
Our production of Mozart’sThe Magic Flute has many beautiful and magical elements to it, and one of them is a dragon. Our Props Master brought it out last week to make sure it was still in good shape, and look for any repairs that needed to be made.
The dragon is pretty big, and takes ideally 6 people to maneuver it!
My favorite part is being able to see the detail close up. Its head is covered with multicolored beads and mirrors so that it will be colorful and vibrant under the stage lights.
The cast for The Magic Flute is currently rehearsing in our black box, before they move into Capitol Theatre next week. Usually what happens for rehearsal is the space of the Capitol Theatre stage and the scenery pieces are marked on the floor in tape, so that the cast knows where stairs and walls and such are going to be. This isn’t a great photo, but you can see some of the tape lines on the floor:
Well, the set for The Magic Flute is a little different. Instead of tape, we have canvas and paint:
That’s a closeup, and this is what it looks like when you step back:
Crazy, right? The set is so full of jagged lines and layers, it was easier to have the scene shop paint the lines than have them taped down. Here’s a model of what the set actually looks like:
Dr. Howard began his formal music studies in Sydney, Australia, where he received the Bachelor of Music Education degree with an emphasis in piano. He then earned a Master of Arts in Musicology from BYU in 1994, and a Ph.D. in Musicology from the University of Michigan in 1997. Dr. Howard has previously served on the music faculties at Minnesota State University Moorhead and the University of Missouri Kansas City. In 2002, he joined the faculty of the School of Music at Brigham Young University where he teaches music history and Western cultural history.
It’s not easy to tease out the symbolism and themes of The Magic Flute in their entirety because they will resonate differently with each viewer. They are interconnected, complex, and dependent on context and individual experience for their interpretations. But some overarching themes do rise easily to the surface, including numerology, Masonic symbolism, and the praise of higher virtues. And along, the way, The Magic Flute has attracted some notable criticism as well.
Some of the symbolism invoked in The Magic Flute is overt, especially the use of the number three as a Masonic symbol independent of its Christian interpretation. There are, for instance, the groupings of the Three Genii, Three Ladies, and three flats in the key (E-flat) of the opera, and other references to multiples of three with direct numerological significance to Freemasory. A knocking rhythm, three times in succession, is an integral part of Masonic ritual, and it must have surprised Viennese Masons in the first audiences to hear, in the middle of the overture, a three-fold repetition of three chords. (The rhythm of this passage was peculiar to the ritual of the Vienna lodge.)
The issue of Sein vs. Schein, which would normally be a positive theme in an operatic plot line, has also led to some critiques of The Magic Flute and charges of racism and misogyny. The comments of the priests and Sarastro about the weakness of women, and the character of Monostatos (who is dark-skinned) might lead some to perceive underlying biases in the characterizations. From the audience’s point of view, these might be part of the test between reality and appearance. Is this what the priests actually believe, or are the positing the commonly held assumptions of the day precisely so they can be challenged and rejected by Mozart, through Tamino? Do Mozart and Schikaneder present a despicable dark-skinned character not as a representation of their own racial prejudices, but as a stereotype they can then contest?
Most of the claims of misogyny in the opera surround the Queen of the Night (sometimes thought to be a parody of the Empress Maria Theresa, who was vehemently opposed to Freemasonry). The portrayal of the Queen of the Night and the Three Ladies is then generalized to refer to all women. So how does Mozart challenge it? In one of the most endearing duets from the opera we hear the words “Mann und Weib, Weib und Mann, Reichen an di Gottheit an” (“Husband and Wife, Wife and Husband, Reach up to and attain godhood.”)
That this duet is sung by the “everyman” Papageno and the “princess” Pamina shows that the sentiment cuts across social hierarchies and applies to all. Neither man nor woman is superior to the other.
Significantly, it is Pamina who leads Tamino into the temple, not the other way around. They are initiated into the mysteries of the female god Isis (not the male Osiris). Together, Pamina and Tamino form a god-couple, modeled after Isis and Osiris. In this regard, the name of Monostatos (meaning, “stands alone”) is significant, since he has none of the traits that will qualify him for the kind of godhood that Tamino and Pamina inherit. The Magic Flute suggests it is man and woman together, not man alone, that qualify for the highest level of godhood.
Just like the claims of sexism, the racism in the opera at first seems to reinforce racial stereotypes before subtly undermining them. The dark-skinned Monostatos plays the race card himself when Pamina rejects his advances, asking her “Is it my black skin that repulses you?” The “everyman” character of Papageno is also at first frightened by the dark skin. But Papageno very quickly comes to terms with it. Even Sarastro makes it clear that what is despicable about Monostatos is his character and his actions, not the color of his skin. In fact, he shows Monostatos more mercy than he deserves, and has already given him more authority within the temple than Monostatos’s character warrants.
Just as the Queen of the Night is not evil because of her gender, Monostatos is not evil because of his skin color. This is made explicit in the staging and costuming for this production. By using tattoos to darken Monostato’s skin, the designer has shown that Monostatos has brought his despicableness upon himself, not inherited it. The design notes for this production include the following observation: “Culture determines status, not some absolute pre-ordained hierarchy. Monostatos once thrived in another society where his complete body-markings were a sign a prestige and honor. Having been defeated, his outer appearance now identifies him as someone to be loathed and detested. In a vain attempt to distract from his indelible tatuage, he dresses in all sorts of colorful indigenous fabrics. Ultimately, his “blackness” is not something that he was born with, but something that he acquired in life, and he cannot find peace.”
Why make the character of Monostatos dark-skinned in the first place, then? Perhaps it was precisely to challenge the initial racist assumptions that people of the day would have made. One of Mozart’s Masonic lodge brothers in Vienna was a black African, and it is very unlikely the composer would’ve gone out of his way to perpetuate racist stereotypes in a deeply Masonic opera when a lodge brother was dark-skinned. Rather than making Monostatos merely a villain, he can be a villain who also teaches the audience that they should judge character on behavior, not skin color.
Sarastro, thought by some commentators to be misogynistic, is not the evil villain the Queen made him out to be in Act I. But neither is he the model we are invited to follow. He is the last in a long line of the celibate priests—a good man, but with character flaws. He is an imperfect leader, one who (like Thomas Jefferson) owned slaves and made mistakes. He admits to kidnapping Pamina (not usually acceptable behavior), but it was to save her from the destructive influence of her mother and allow her to reach her highest potential—he used a bad means to a good end. But he will be replaced by the god-couple of Tamino and Pamina, ushering in a new enlightened generation. What Mozart says with Sarastro and the priests (all of whom are, like Monostatos, apparently unmarried) is that the brotherhood of Freemasonry as it stood then was a good institution, but it was not the ideal, and we should strive for a better way. Even Papageno, the “everyman,” has a wife at the end of the opera, presumably granting him potential to exceed Sarastro in power, should he so choose.
Viewing the story of The Magic Flute as a parable about separating appearance from reality, truth from innuendo, and wisdom from bigotry and falsehood, will help almost every aspect of the story make sense. It is not really a Masonic opera as such. It is rather a moral opera that uses Masonic emblems and symbols in the process of telling a story about achieving the highest potential within us. But the end of the story, with both man and woman raised to godhood together, was radical even for 18th-century Viennese Masons. And for the rest of that first audience, it must have seemed like nothing more than a curious flight of fancy.
The character of Sarastro is presented to the audience in absentia in the first two scenes of Act I. We only know about him through the reports of others, and they are not all that flattering. The “Schein” of Sarastro then, or his character as it’s painted superficially by others, sets up a clear distinction with his “Sein” when we finally meet him and hear his music. And indeed, Sarastro’s music shows him to be trustworthy. It is hymn-like, grounded, unaffected, and without artifice or decoration. Sarastro’s arias belong to the same sound world as Mozart’s motet “Ave verum corpus,” composed while he was working on The Magic Flute, and one of the most personal and guileless expressions of real faith in Mozart’s entire output.
Sarastro’s first aria, “O Isis und Osiris” is accompanied by a chorus of priests singing hymn-like refrains, lending further dignity to the scene.
The final note of this aria is a low F, exactly four octaves lower than the highest note the Queen of the Night sings. It’s not the low note itself that gives Sarastro’s character gravity and soberness—Osmin in Mozart’s Abduction from the Seraglio sings the D a minor third lower than Sarastro in his comic aria “Ha!, wie will ich triumphieren,” and nobody is supposed to think Osmin is trustworthy. But in the context of The Magic Flute and in comparison with the Queen of the Night, Sarastro’s music is intended to strike the audience as profound in every sense.
Papageno, on the other hand, is neither inherently good nor evil. He is an “everyman” who neither descends to the depths of depravity like Monostatos, nor does he ascend to the highest realm of virtue attained by Tamino and Pamina. As an “everyman” character, Papageno is given the kind of simple folk-like melodies that were also much better suited to Schikaneder’s relatively untrained voice.
Papageno’s melodies, like his character, are endearing without being elevated. All he wants to be happy is a good meal and a good woman, and the simplicity of his needs is reflected in the folkish quality of his music.
The repulsive Monostatos is given a patter song typical of an opera buffa comic character. As a tenor, he represents the “anti-Tamino” in the same way that Papageno is the obverse of Sarastro. He only gets one short aria—more of an arietta—befitting his secondary importance and influence on the story.
The Three Genii present a different kind of case entirely. They are invoked by The Queen of the Night to help Tamino in his quest, but it is very clear from the outset that they are not under her control the way the Three Ladies and even Papageno are. In Ingmar Bergman’s film of The Magic Flute, he covers the Queen of the Night with a curtain when the genii appear, to completely separate them from her.
Like Sarastro’s music, the music of the Three Genii is hymn-like, homorhythmic, harmonically stable, and serene. So while they appear to be summoned by the Queen to suit her purposes, musically they anticipate the solemnity of Sarastro. At Sarastro’s appearance, the audience can immediately make the connection between the similar musical styles, and understand on whose side the Three Genii really belong.
So why would the Queen of the Night give Tamino the Three Genii when they will eventually lead Tamino to the truth and the Queen’s eventual downfall? It may be because she believes, in her ignorance, that her cause is right, or that she is not so much evil as merely unenlightened. Whether the Queen is malevolent in her use of deception to further her personal agenda or simply ignorant of the higher virtues is a plot detail that isn’t answered by Mozart’s music.
The Three Genii are also counterparts to the Three Ladies—singing in the same range, and employing a trinity of voices to lend greater spiritual weight to their utterances. But while the Three Ladies first introduce themselves to Tamino in block chords, they (like the Queen of the Night) aren’t able to sustain the ruse very long, and their music quickly divides up into petty squabbles with individual melodies, imitative entries, and fragmentation of themes. The moralizing was for show, part of the deception they foist onto Tamino. Their subsequent musical styles shift rapidly over the course of the opening ensemble, indicating their capriciousness and lack of unity.
These musical characterizations form four dramatic pairs that provide the foundation of the “enlightened” vs. “unenlightened” story line. For every “enlightened” character, there is a corresponding “unenlightened” character of the same voice type:
• Two sopranos—Pamina and the Queen of the Night
• Two treble-register trios—the Three Genii and the Three Ladies
• Two tenors—Tamino and Monostatos
• Two bass/baritones—Sarastro and Papageno
What’s now obvious but more difficult to explain away is why in Mozart’s setting of The Magic Flute there are no significant mezzo-soprano roles. Though one possible answer is that perhaps there simply wasn’t a good mezzo in Schikaneder’s troupe.
There are more socio-economic strata in The Magic Flute than in almost any other opera by Mozart, though the nearest rival may be (significantly) The Abduction from Seraglio. In other well-known Mozart operas like The Marriage of Figaro or Don Giovanni, for example, there are still high-born and low-born characters, but their social positions are polarized. In The Magic Flute, on the other hand, four or five different social classes are represented, each of them illustrated by the music Mozart writes for the characters.
Suiting the music to the character (as well as to the specific singer) was a particular gift of Mozart’s, and he had done this kind of thing in opera many times before. You can tell as much about a character in a Mozart opera by the style of music they’re given as you can by their words and actions. A concise and clear example of this comes at the beginning of The Marriage of Figaro where Susanna emerges as a strong, smart, willful character. Within the first two minutes of the opera, not only does she convince Figaro to stop his work and pay attention to her, but she manages to convince him to “sing her tune” both figuratively and literally. Figaro’s subservience to Susanna is represented not only by his actions, but also by his shift from short, business-like musical motifs to Susanna’s sinuously flowing melody.
In Mozart’s operas, you can trust the music to tell you what you need to know about a character, and this quality overrides many of the superficial dramatic ambiguities about how the characters act throughout The Magic Flute. The music Mozart writes doesn’t deceive or confuse the way a character’s dialog or actions can.
In this opera there is an extraordinary range of musical styles from popular ditties (Papageno) to elevated late 18th-century operatic style (Tamino, Pamina), to a parody of baroque opera seria (the Queen of the Night) to Lutheran chorales (the Two Armed Men) and simple hymn-like choruses. It is a compendium of Mozart’s operatic writing techniques. And while the musical relationships and styles in The Magic Flute are complex, they are not complicated. In the opening scenes, Mozart shows the audience through the music the true characters of the participants in the drama. (The illustrations here are from Utah Opera’s 2006 production of The Magic Flute, with Thaddeus Strassberger’s sets and Susan Memmott Allred’s costumes).
First, Tamino—a prince from a foreign country (Japan) deposited magically into a strange land where he seeks to know the ways and culture of the people. He is honorable and honest.
These qualities are demonstrated in his first aria, the heartfelt “Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön,” which demonstrates true emotion and sensitive feeling. The musical representation matches perfectly with the dramatic moment, so we know we can trust his character to do the right thing as he sees it. He is the ideal.
By contrast, the Queen of the Night’s first aria is musically at odds with the impression she tries to give.
At her introduction, the audience is aware merely that she is a Queen who is supernaturally powerful, and that Sarastro has taken her daughter. She solicits Tamino’s help to get her daughter back, and promises her daughter to Tamino if he succeeds. There is nothing inherently evil or sinister about the plot details at this point. Similarly, she gives Tamino and Papageno the magic flute and the magic glockenspiel (traditionally these kinds of magic objects are neutral, as in Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelungen, not belonging to the forces of good or evil necessarily), which are good and useful tools.
But her aria is in the style of late Italian baroque opera seria, an outdated and frankly obsolete style by 1791. Characters in baroque opera were not real—they were stylized and artificial. What’s more, the Queen of the Night is the only character in The Magic Flute who sings in baroque-style recitative. Mozart makes clear through his musical setting that the Queen is not honest and “real” the way Tamino is. Her story, as she relates it to Tamino, is overly melodramatic, the emotions are “performed” instead of being sincere, and one can detect already in the music a deception, an artifice.
The orchestral introduction to her recitative begins with a syncopated accompaniment figure (0:00 – 0:20) that recalls Mozart’s and Haydn’s “Sturm und Drang” (or “Storm and Stress”) symphonies where the relentless syncopations indicate unrest. The Queen of the Night tries to give the impression of being firm and steadfast, but the music tells us otherwise—she is not grounded, nor is she in control.
The very rapid shifting between emotions also suggests that she is fickle. Mozart employs standard (even clichéd) musical gestures to illustrate this inconstancy and point up how shallow her façade really is:
• Stern and upright rhythms at the words “You’re a brave young man”
• Chromaticism for “Only you could console my sorrow”
• Plaintive and sorrowing when she sings “My child has been taken from me…”
• But suddenly turning to bold dotted rhythms for “…by an evil man.” (This is an especially telling musical symbol here. Mozart uses the majestic dotted rhythm of a French Overture, indicating royalty, but it’s also the same dotted rhythm that introduced the Queen herself, suggesting to the audience that if the “evil man” is royal, then she herself, who is also royal, is equally suspect)
• Cries of “help, help!” soaring up into the high register
• But immediately optimistic and jolly when she sings “You shall save her.”
Then the impossibly long melisma she sings on “So sei sie dann…” (4:05 – 4:37) marks the Queen of the Night as somewhat ludicrous as well. The word “dann” (“then”) is not an important word in the dramatic thrust of the aria, and doesn’t really deserve such emphasis. (A more logical place for emphasis would be on the word “forever,” in the phrase, “She will be yours, then, forever.”) Where Mozart places that long embellishment tells us that the Queen hasn’t really thought this through—the mask is slipping.
The Queen is a remnant of an earlier, unenlightened age, and Tamino suspects this already. Immediately after the Three Ladies and the Queen have appeared to Tamino, he begins to suspect that what he just saw wasn’t, in fact, real, that it was simply a fantastic display.
He says, “Is this actually reality that I saw? Or are my senses deceiving me? Oh, ye good Gods! Don’t let me down or I’ll fail to pass your test.” He doesn’t trust the Queen, and doesn’t trust his senses, but he does trust his own character and moral judgment.
Later in Act I, Tamino references his suspected mistrust of the Queen explicitly and musically by singing “O ew’ge Nacht” (“O, endless night”) to a minor-key version of the Queen’s “O zittre nicht” motif. Night is now a curse, and Tamino seeks for the light that the Queen cannot provide. (0:48 – 1:09)
The facile façade and “performed” lamenting of the Queen of the Night’s first aria is then further emphasized in Act II when her daughter, Pamina, expresses true loss in the aria “Ach, ich fühl’s.” Both arias are in the same key, and express the same sentiment, but Pamina’s aria is much more earnest and honest. (starting at 0:44)
The Queen’s second aria, the stereotypical baroque-style “revenge” aria in Act II (“Der Hölle Rache”) reveals another chink in her superficial façade.
She becomes so impassioned that at the end of the aria the musical structure devolves back into recitative. In doing so, Mozart shows us that she is out of control—she has not mastered her emotions in the way that the ideal characters in the opera, Tamino and Pamina, are taught to. There is a precedent in Mozartian opera for this devolution back to recitative at the end of an aria, in The Marriage of Figaro when Cherubino sings “Non, so più.”
Just as Cherubino doesn’t have the maturity or the emotional control to sustain his aria form all the way through to the end, The Queen of the Night is similarly undone by her unchecked emotions.
The plot of The Magic Flute is undeniably complicated. And it’s not the complexity of human relationships that swirl around a basic dramatic premise like “love” (as in The Marriage of Figaro) or morality and politics (as in Don Giovanni). Neither is it a comedy, though there are comic moments. It is truly a head-scratcher from almost any viewpoint. One of the only criticisms Richard Wagner had of Mozart was that he was willing to set low quality libretti to high quality music (and if that was the worst thing Wagner could say about Mozart, then it was high praise). But if Wagner was thinking about The Magic Flute, then he had a point. Unraveling the plot of The Magic Flute appears to have generated more scholarly research than the music has, as scholars and fans alike try to account for its eccentricities.
The opera conductor and part-time Mozart scholar Myer Fredman once remarked on how oddly the plot of The Magic Flute unfolds. “An overture, then a dragon,” he notes, “three ‘cabaret’ ladies, a quasi-folk song, an intensely passionate invocation to a portrait, and a virtuoso tirade. Now follows a padlock, a magic flute, a magic glockenspiel and five singers who step out of character to talk directly to the audience.” And the heroine hasn’t even made her entrance yet! It’s no wonder audiences are confused. Added to this, there is the element of pantomime, the blend of comic and serious, and rapid scene changes (though one can find that in Shakespeare as well). The staging of The Magic Flute is notoriously difficult without making it look either farcical (overlooking the serious elements) or Wagnerian (overlooking the humor and wit).
Is The Magic Flute a fairy story, then, a jumble of loosely-Masonic allegories that changed direction half way through, or is it a tightly constructed plot whose twists and ambiguities all serve a unified, higher purpose? A partial answer emerges in the backstory of Schikaneder’s troupe, which had been performing “fairy-tale operas” for several years before The Magic Flute. In 1789, they staged a performance of Karl Ludwig Giesecke’s Oberon, a Singspiel that inspired many of the characters and plot turns in The Magic Flute. (Oberon was itself an adaptation of an earlier fairy-tale Singpsiel, Sophie Seyler’s Hüon und Amande, which was itself an adaptation of an earlier work by Christoph Wieland.) Giesecke was a member of Schikaneder’s troupe, a fellow Mason, and later played the (mostly speaking) role of the “First Slave” in the premier of The Magic Flute.
Jakob Liebeskind’s fairy story “Lulu, or the Magic Flute” also provided inspiration, and was published in a collection titled Dschinnistan just before Oberon was produced on the stage.
One of the engraved illustrations from Liebeskind’s Dschinnistan, showing a Sarastro-like high priest, Egyptian statuary, symbols of magic and the occult, and a princely figure.
In 1790, Benedikt Schack, another member of Schikaneder’s troupe, pulled together a number of composers (including Mozart) to contribute music for another Singspiel titled Der Stein der Weisen or Die Zauberinsel (“The Philosopher’s Stone”), also based on Liebeskind’s fairy tales. And just a few months before The Magic Flute was staged, a rival troupe in Vienna staged a performance of Joachim Perinet’s Kaspar the Bassoonist, or Die Zauberzither, which shares some similar plot lines with The Magic Flute and was similarly based on Liebeskind’s stories.
The genre of the Zauberoper, “magic opera” or “fairty-tale opera” was, then, at the height of its popularity, and Schikaneder begged Mozart to help him cash in on the current fashion. To an extent, then, the plot line of The Magic Flute was already set by these earlier precedents. At the very least, the two friends created a kind of opera in which complicated plot twists, bizarre narrative developments and ambiguous conundrums either didn’t matter to the audience, or could be explained away by the fancifulness and imagination of the Zauberoper genre itself.
The answer to the question of what The Magic Flute is all about depends largely on which authority one consults. Several Mozart scholars have claimed that the direction of the plot changes inexplicably a third of the way through. Did Mozart and Schikaneder decide after composing a substantial portion of the score to switch things around? It’s an interesting dilemma, because the Queen at the opera’s start does seem to be “good,” and Saratstro “bad.” (In Liebeskind’s fairy tales on which The Magic Flute appears to be based, the Queen is indeed a virtuous figure and the priest is evil.) The Queen’s helpers—the Three Ladies—save Tamino from the serpent (a symbol, perhaps, of Lucifer and deception) and they overtly praise the need for honesty. The Queen is telling the truth when she points out that Sarastro has taken her daughter from her. She gives Tamino a magic Flute and Papageno a magic glockenspiel that ultimately will bring them wisdom and happiness. She provides for them the Three Genii (or Three Boys) who are supernaturally wise and honest. On one level, at least, it would seem that the Queen really did start out as a good character, and was changed in the middle of Act I to an evil character, without recomposing the music or recasting the first part of the story.
But other scholars claim that these plot peculiarities can be understood in terms of a larger universal story that untangles the complexities of façade and inner truth. In this interpretation, The Magic Flute is a sophisticated symbolic vehicle, a lesson in epistemology that represents a philosophical exercise commonly known in German as Sein und Schein (Reality and Appearance). It invites the viewer to look past first appearances, and examine the premises and assumptions on which those appearances are based. In other words, it takes the story much further than a mere fairy tale—where characters are “types” and the distinction between good and evil usually well-marked—and turns it into a more meaningful and profound allegory. Just as Tamino is forced to reconsider some of the allegations, innuendo, circumstantial evidence, rumor and other manifestations of apparent truth, the audience also takes part in this exercise, discovering the true Sein (Reality) beneath the deceptive Schein (or Appearance). This makes the first part of the opera an intentional deception, trying to convince Tamino that good is evil, and evil good. The second Act then pulls the curtain back and reveals the Truth that the Queen had hidden in the opera’s opening.
But the key to understanding what’s really being presented on stage is in Mozart’s music itself.