I was going to rain down death, despair and the vengeance of hell, soprano style, on you today, but that seemed like a bit much for a Monday morning. Instead, I’m going to give you the Queen of the Night’s other aria, in which she persuades and even seduces the young and extremely persuadable tenor, Tamino, to her cause. You can always go hunting for hell’s boiling vengeance later.
This is Diane Damrau’s version, which is very dramatic and sincere, and also utterly gorgeous. I had a lot of trouble choosing a version of this today, because I also utterly adore what Natalie Dessay does with the role. Diane Damrau is despairing and determined and clinging to Tamino to make him do her bidding, where Natalie Dessay is deliberately seductive, singing the aria in front of a portrait of Pamina, and trying, I think, to conflate herself with her daughter in Tamino’s (rather vacant) mind. And then we have Luciana Serra, whose portrayal is probably the most tragic and queenly of the three.
In all three cases, the singing is perfect.
I’m currently watching the DVD of Damrau’s version, kindly lent to me by a colleague (who heard me listening to this very aria on my computer at work, oops!), and am finding it very difficult to sit through, to be honest. The singing and acting is excellent, but my God, the sexism is unbelievable! The only live production I’ve seen of The Magic Flute was an abridged version, and while it was still pretty infuriating from a feminist perspective, I don’t remember it containing quite such choice lines as “So a woman beguiled you? A woman does little, chatters a lot!” or “A woman needs a man to guide her.” Charming.
Actually, when I saw the opera I was there with my sister in law, who commented in the interval that Sarastro was really evil – it had not occurred to her that the Queen of the Night was anything other than the heroine of the piece. And really, on the basis of actions up until that point, why would it? Even on the basis of actions after that point, we only really know Sarastro is good because everyone tells us so – his actions do not particularly bear this out.
Oh, fine. This is now officially turning into a feminist rant about how utterly infuriating the sexual politics of The Magic Flute are. Except – thank heavens for the internet – I don’t have to provide said rant, because others have already done it far better than I could.
Better still, it turns out that some brilliant person going by the name of Operagasmic has written a synopsis, which is possibly the funniest thing I’ve read this week: Act I / Act II. Go. Read. It will reconcile you to the fact that Mozart wrote some of his best music for an opera with a plot that makes me want to bang my head against a wall…
And if it doesn’t, then I suggest you go listen to some hellish feminist soprano vengeance after all. It always makes me feel better…
Edited to add: Upon further reflection, I have come up with my own theory about this opera. I’ve decided that Mozart was deliberately writing a cultish dystopia (and possibly a feminist critique of Freemasonry) when he wrote about Sarastro’s Temple of Wisdom. It’s quite obvious, really. Everyone knows that the villains are always basses like Sarastro, and sopranos are tragic heroines. And you can’t get much more sopranoish than The Queen of the Night…
I am firmly convinced that this is what Mozart had in mind. And, as a good woman, I will accept his manly guidance on this matter.