Whirr2006-01-12
Die, Zauberflöte! Die!!!!!



Katya and I got to see (most of*) The Magic Flute at the Lyric Opera last night. Hooray! It was very good, and quite different from my other Lyric experience--Wagner.

My boss is a Mozart fanatic, and had been telling me how wonderful the music was, and also what a brilliant librettist the man was. I think I missed a lot of that, though, due to my lack of expertise with music. I really enjoyed it, and I thought that it was quite beautiful, but I think that people who grew up appreciating classical music can interact with Mozart on a different level than I can. Katya, for example, thought that it was almost too beautiful (which I understand only slightly). She prefers the Wagner for that reason.

One of the big differences for me was that with Wagner I felt that I had to be constantly reading the subtitles the whole time, trying to keep up with his intricate plot, and I was constantly looking at the sheer neon-encrusted spectacle on stage. With Magic Flute, however, I often found myself staring at the ceiling or closing my eyes, the better to concentrate on the music. I certainly followed the story, and I enjoyed it (that Papageno is funny as hell, yo. More on him later), but the music seemed to be the key element here. Partially this is because Mozart is a musical genius and (brilliant librettist though he may be) the story was a little... uneven. It's also true that the Ring Cycle was my first exposure to the Lyric Opera and the first live opera I'd seen by one of the greats, so I may have been more hypersensitive to it, while perhaps I was able to relax more with Mozart. There also the possibility, of course, that when I saw Mozart I was still drunk*. At any rate, it was a very different experience.

I enjoyed the three Yoot, or Genii, a great deal. I'm too inexperienced to claim that I heard them sing notes poorly, but certainly I found that I enjoyed the phrasing of certain notes more than others... nevertheless the notes of theirs' that I liked (the higher ones), I liked a lot. I also really enjoyed Sarastro, although I wish that he had magically been even louder. I guess that's what the people pay all that money for, up there in the front rows. Far and away the best, however, was the Queen of the Night's second aria (her first one, presumably, was also quite nice). It was extremely difficult to believe that the sound I was hearing came from a human--extraordinary, with all these crazy trills and what-not. Wow.

I'm not quite sure why I'm writing about it, really. I thought it was amazing, but I don't really have the vocabulary to explain what it sounded like (does anyone?) and, moreover, it's one of the most famous arias in the history of civilization. Fercrissakes, you can google "Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen" and listen for yourself. I mean, you won't be hearing the same coloratura (Aleksandra Kurzak, in my case) but if I were you I doubt I could tell the difference.

One thing that surprised me was that, just as in the Ring, I noticed a few inexcusable (yet inarguable) technical faults. This mystifies me. Some are, perhaps, matters of personal preference. For example, in one seen Papageno is exploring this frightening place he has been lead to. He goes to lean against a rocky outcropping, but the lights brighten and it turns out to be a stone lion. He runs over somewhere else, but the lights come up and reveal a scary statue, &c. If I were designing it, I would want a fairly subtle increase in brightness, maybe a quick swelling or something, but last night it was more like a quick flash to "ON". It didn't look like the clouds parting and the moon illuminating, it looked like the stage manager "go"-ing and the board op pushing the button. As I say, that might be a question of taste.

Less excusable was the glow tape. I'm not against glow tape--certainly it's a necessity it any but the most simple of plays. One should avoid the "aircraft runway" syndrome, but obviously the actors will need an occasional spike mark to find their light in the dark, so to speak. My objection with last night's production, however, was that someone had traced out the four corners of the center trap door with glow tape, using a good four to six inches on each corner. First of all, I hate it when trap doors and elevators are visible on stage. I feel that either their existence should be a complete surprise to the audience, if possible. Now it isn't always possible, but one should never draw attention to it. I had a similar problem in the Ring, now that I think of it. There was so much tape around the trap door that I really thought it (the tape) was a scenic element. It looked like the sort of the Richard Foreman would do. The rest of the set was all threes (thee is an important number in Masonry, I hear. Apparently a lot of the music is in E flat, which has three flats in the scale, the score has a number of chords that were repeated thrice, and the stage had a number of triangles &c.). In addition, most of the scenery was rounded... there were a number of very rounded rocks, for example. So the outlines of a right-angled, four-sided square really stood out on the stage. I spent over half of the second act wondering what it signified, before realizing that it signified "Watch out, actors, there's a trap door here!". You can actually see it in the publicity image from their web site, just behind that guy in black robes. A little bit amateur-hour, if you ask me.

Ok, that's not at all fair, and Jörg Zimmermann, if you read this, I'm sure you did a better job than I could. I wonder if this sort of thing has something to do with Opera Singers' contracts. "That's it," says Papageno, "I'm not going on. I'll fall down the trap door and die, it's too risky" "But if I put glow tape around it, won't my set look silly?" "Jörg, either shut up or learn how to sing 'Der Vogelfänger bin ich ja', no one's paying to see your set."

I thought the animal costumes look silly, too.

Speaking of Papageno, he was hilarious. The opera, of course, is in German with English surtitles. At one point, Papageno shakes his magic rattle but it doesn't do what he wants, and he yells out, "Damn, this thing busted!". Everyone stops, and he looks really embarrassed and runs over to say something to the conductor, who nods. A surtitle comes up with, "Damn, this thing's busted" on it in German.





















*So, yeah. I thought that if I left work at 6:00pm I'd have plenty of time to get there by 7:30... and I did. I got there around 7:28 or so. Katya had already started the long climb up to our seats, and the ticket's (I realized just then) were in her name only. I was even going to buy another ticket, right there, but by the time I thought of it the doors were shut, and there is no late seating at the Lyric.

Needless to say, I was pretty upset about that. After banging my fists melodramatically against a streetlight I went off to have a drink. On the way, I noticed that my ring was missing--probably flew off my finger at the streetlight, but I couldn't find it at all. Ouch, that's low.

So I went and had a shot of tequila and a black Russian and some curly fries, and I read synopses of Act One on my phone. I love having a phone that allows me to download opera synopses and read them in a bar. Around the time that intermission was beginning I left the bar and headed back to the theatre. On the way, to my great surprise, I happened to notice my ring lying on the sidewalk at Wacker and Randolph. I must have dropped it before I even got to the theatre, and I never would have found it, else! I still can't quite believe that it was just sitting there, nor that I happened to look down and see it.

I got to the theatre, Katya came out at intermission, and I got to see the rest of the show. Perhaps I even enjoyed it more, being tilted slightly toward the Dionysian side and away from the Apollonian. Certainly I don't regret missing Sarastro's monologue about why women need strong husbands, &c.
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