Thursday, January 25, 2007

Beauty is truth, truth beauty

Taking a break from work and everything else weighing me down, I did something last evening that I do very little of: I watched TV. Specifically, I watched the Metropolitan Opera's magical, whimsical, enthralling production of Mozart's The Magic Flute.

The term "imaginative" just doesn't cut it in describing Julie Taymor's staging. A combination mystery play, fairy tale, and puppet show for adults --complete with a huge dragon that must have escaped from a Chinese New Year's Day parade ... and a hero who overcomes his instincts for violent combat and learns to conquer darkness with light and falsehood with truth.

Personally, I always felt that the Queen of the Night gets a bum rap in this story. What mom wouldn't be worried sick about her daughter if her ex had whisked her away and refused to disclose where he was holding her? These days, that would be called child abduction, and His High Priestliness Sarastro would be in big trouble with the law. But in this production, there's no question that the Queen really is evil. You can tell. She has tentacles instead of hands and looks like a big wasp. She even bullies poor Pamina, threatening to kill her if she doesn't side with her against her father....Sort of makes you wonder how Sarastro ever fell in love with the Queen in the first place. Well, even high priests have their weak moments, I guess....

The three boys who guide Prince Tamino and his reluctant side-kick Pagageno are pale, phantasmagoric child-men with long white beards, and the three ladies' heads literally turn with infatuation over the handsome prince.

The new English translation was as bouncy as the huge animal puppets dancing to Papageno's magic bells. The bird catcher had all the best lines and got plenty of laughs. However, the lyrics just didn't provide Sarastro with the necessary depth when it comes to expressing the principles and convictions of the Brotherhood. Mozart's music made up for whatever was lacking in the text ... and that is what I think is the essence of opera: it's the music that really tells the story.

Mozart is up there somewhere smiling and dancing.

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