The Magic Flute

Opera Theater Program Cover

Opera Theater Program Cover

Tuesday night was a date night, with dinner and a show. Dinner was at Cyrano’s, one of our regular haunts in Webster Groves. The show was at the Loretto-Hilton, also a regular haunt. Normally, we go to the Loretto-Hilton to see plays put on by the Repertory Theater, but this being the summer, it is Opera Theater time. Last night, we went to see Mozart’s opera, the Magic Flute, which is basically just the story of a domestic dispute.

When we were in college at Michigan State, Anne and I saw Ingmar Bergman’s 1975 film adaptation of the Magic Flute. It was mysterious, difficult to follow and vaguely Swedish. Still it made a lasting impression, so when Anne suggested seeing it again, this time as live action, I was onboard with the idea even though I knew that it would make for a late work night. This morning, I was regaling my colleagues about the show. Most of them will never see an opera, so I played the philistine for them. I told them that with some difficulty I had managed to stay awake through the show. In past years, this has not always been true. I then told them with a smirk, “Opera is not for sissies.”

When Mozart wrote the Magic Flute it was the mid-eighteen century. The Enlightenment was going full tilt boogie, but was also getting some push-back from the Catholic Church. He wanted to write about this, but he also didn’t want to go to prison or worse, so he chose an allegorical approach. The Mother Church became personified by the Queen of the Night, signifying both mystery and darkness. She is also mother of Pamina, the female lead. Standing in the opposite corner is Sarastro. He stood for logic and reason and is also Pamina’s father. At this point in my explanation of the opera all the guys in the office agreed that this story was obviously written by a man. [See ladies, in 250 years we men have made progress. You just need to be more patient with us, we’re coming along.] 😉

When we’re introduced to the male lead, Prince Tamino, mother, father, daughter and prince all agree that Tamino and Pamina should be wed. Most of the opera is then spent determining whether the father or the mother should be invited to the wedding. I’m being somewhat flippant about this story, because the ins and outs of 18th-century politics are at best obscure now. They’ve been further obfuscated by Opera Theater’s decision to update the story. They reset the story to 1920s Hollywood. The Queen of the Night is now an aging silent screen star and Sarastro, the father, and his brethren are now Shriners. This last choice was derived from Mozart’s references to ancient wisdom, in the form of the Egyptian pantheon.

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