I’m not sure how many times I’ve seen Mozart’s The Magic Flute (Die Zauberflöte). Five or six times, I would guess. Most recently on Saturday night in Salt Lake City, as performed by the Utah Opera.
It was an exceptionally light, comic staging, which I liked in some respects and disliked in others. Instead of the monastery-like dignity of the typical versions I’ve seen, the votaries of Sarastro’s temple of Isis and Osiris looked rather like the residents of an exceptionally lax Hindu ashram, or even like hippies strung out on drugs, and Sarastro himself, surprisingly young, resembled a flower child out of my 60s California. He spent much of his time sitting, expressionless and motionless, in something like lotus position, with his index finger and thumb touching in a characteristically Buddhist pose.
The Queen of the Night hit her notes dependably — no small feat in this particular opera — but it distracted me just a bit that she looked younger even than the young and attractive soprano who played her daughter Pamina. (It’s nice when somebody who’s supposed to represent a love interest in an opera is actually slender and beautiful. Once, while I was spending a summer back in 1990 at UC Berkeley and the Graduate Theological Union, I attended Wagner’s Ring Cycle at the San Francisco Opera. I had a middling to cheap seat, and so, for Die Walküre, I took binoculars. After a close look at Brünnhilde, though, I decided that I would prefer not to use them, but would let the illusion fostered by distance work its magic on my imagination. Much better.)
What really struck me, though, is that I first saw Die Zauberflöte at Oper Zürich during my mission, and that, if I’m not mistaken, that was forty years ago. Forty years. Stunning. How did I get to be so absurdly old? That twenty-year-old missionary couldn’t have imagined ever being such a geezer. But here I am, and there’s nothing that can be done about it. Sometimes I’m envious of the young — I’m told that all antique people have that feeling from time to time — and sometimes I’m grateful (seriously) that my time is gradually winding down. I do take some malicious comfort, though, in knowing that those who are currently young will someday be just as surprised, just as blindsided, by geezerhood as I have been — and that it will come much faster than they can currently comprehend.
But back to Die Zauberflöte.
The story — involving a mysterious quasi-masonic “temple of wisdom” and such like — is simultaneously intriguing and stupid beyond words. But the music is glorious. And there’s a wonderful passage at the end of the duet sung by Papageno and Tamina in Act I:
Reflecting upon the importance and the joys of love between men and women, they sing
Ihr hoher Zweck zeigt deutlich an
Nichts Edler’s sei, als Weib und Mann.
Mann und Weib, und Weib und Mann,
Reichen an die Gottheit an.
Which, roughly translated and without any attempt at poetry (let alone rhyme), means something like the following:
Its high purpose clearly shows
There’s nothing more noble than husband and wife.
Husband and wife, and wife and husband,
That’s not the only place in the opera that should be of interest to observant Mormons (in both senses of the term observant), but it’s certainly an obvious one.