Toronto is a great town for musical connections. If you go to enough concerts you’ll have a chance to explore inter-connected compositions & composers, to discover relationships and references.
Not so long ago I had the pleasure of hearing Tafelmusik’s scholarly take on Mozart’s Requiem the same month that I was obsessing over the COC production of La Clemenza di Tito. Both works carry the caveat “some assembly required”, as they were finished with assistance (or perhaps more accurately “assistants”) rather than being 100% music by Mozart. As such I have to be careful I am actually talking about Mozart and not something written by one of his associates.
And now this week we get the trifecta with Opera Atelier’s The Magic Flute. While this work has been presented many times locally and abroad, it’s especially valuable to listen to it with the late Mozart in our ears. Forgive me if I am going against the grain in this essay, given that Opera Atelier seem to be aiming for a popular reaction to this work, judging from the publicity I’ve seen. And who could blame them? The Metropolitan Opera, for example, have a short version of the opera designed for children, and I’ve seen other abbreviated versions of the work with family viewing in mind. If Tchaikowsky’s Nutcracker can help line the cashbox why shouldn’t opera companies consider the same sort of thing, especially when times are tough…? The two obvious candidates for this sort of family-oriented fund-raising would be Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel and of course, Mozart’s Magic Flute.
But pardon me, that’s not what this is about. Accessible as Magic Flute may be, I’d like to consider it with the other two works from 1791, Mozart’s last year.
I already observed similarities between Clemenza and the Requiem in the review I wrote a few weeks ago, the echoes of “Parto, parto” in the “tuba mirum”. What else can we observe? Ask me again when I’ve actually SEEN Magic Flute. This is just the product of a few moments’ reflection on Easter weekend.
When Ingmar Bergman made his film of Magic Flute his Brechtian reading called attention to something in the writing from Mozart & his librettist Schikaneder (who was also the first Papageno). At times in the film, the principals stand facing the camera while holding cards with text on them. This is especially likely when the text ceases to be dramatic and instead begins to preach or moralize. Whenever Schickaneder wants to teach us an important lesson, the music is sometimes of a pristine clarity, allowing the text to shine through like sunshine. But what do you know, this isn’t the only opera where this can be seen.
In fact La Clemenza di Tito, an opera that premiered the same month as Magic Flute has a pre-existing libretto by Pietro Metastasio, that was modified by Caterino Tommaso Mazzolà. I realize now –long after the fact of the COC production—that it would have been fun (and prudent) to compare Mazzolà’s libretto with that of Metastasio. Oh well… another time. But I can’t help wondering what motivates the divergences from Metastasio, and if they were driven by requests Mozart made. These transgressions would likely be pathways that could have been reforms, had opera seria not been a dying form. I can’t help wondering whether the numbers musing upon morality were already in Metastasio or recent additions. This is a fascinating common thread between the two operas.
Would you like examples?
In Magic Flute you have the following:
- In the “hm hm hm” quintet, when the five observes music’s power to change people’s emotions & dispositions. Whenever Bergman uses signage (roughly one minute into the clip), it’s no longer drama, but a kind of moral instruction
- The lovely duet between Papageno & Pamina concerning the nature of love
- Tamino’s second aria –where the animals appear in response to his flute-playing—is like a demonstration of the power of music
- After Papageno’s bells free him and Pamina from Monostatos & his slaves, the two sing a paean to music’s powers (again with signage).
…and that’s all in Act I
In Clemenza di Tito—admittedly an operatic meditation on the nature of virtue & the form of the good—there are several instances where the story of the opera seems to stop regularly not just to juxtapose betrayals with loyalty, but for the contemplation of the nature of the good:
- “Deh, prendi un dolce amplesso” is a duet between friends, who speak of faithfulness
- “Ah, se fosse intorno al trono”, an aria where Tito muses on the honesty Servilia has shown
- “Torna di Tiro a lato”, where Annio implores Sesto to do the right thing: to go back to Tito and to turn himself in. Don’t you wish you had friends like this? Oh my God…
- “Tardi s’avvde” is Publio’s commentary on Tito, that someone who has always been honest and trusting as Tito has might not be able to recognize treachery
- “Se all’impero, amici Dei” is Tito’s aria where he compares loyalty commanded by love to that compelled by fear.
IS Mozart all good? oh no. That’s why i need a part two.