The Magic Flute

By Isis Wozniakowska (California State University in Florence)

I had the pleasure of seeing Mozart’s final completed work, The Magic Flute recently. I knew from past knowledge that it was a fantasy story and it was usually equipped with odd costumes and scenery to go along with the ridiculous storyline. Unfortunately, that aspect of the opera was lost on this interpretation of it here in Florence. The costumes and stage settings all seemed to work with a more mundane interpretation of the story. I will say I felt that was a little underwhelming. Instead of Papageno’s amazing bird costume he ended up being just a boring school janitor, and the Queen of the Night was just an angry looking woman in fancy dinner attire or something. I do have to say, the setting of a school and the lack of crazy costumes does take away from a lot of the crazy elements of the storyline. It almost makes it harder to follow, since everything in the lyrics talk about princes, queens, gods and magic while the characters and setting are mundane and not following the craziness of it all.

Scenography aside, the music was fantastic, exactly what you’d expect from a Mozart opera. It might be a bit of a shock to hear the singing, as this is one of the rare librettos written in German, but it full of rhyme and poetic rhythm regardless. It was particularly interesting how in German tradition the operas have moments where the singing stops, and there is normal spoken dialogue. At times, it was a nice break from the rest of the chaos of the opera, and I think it was better than the Italian tradition which forces singing at times even when it doesn’t make much sense to keep it up. Though really, the most impressive part of the libretto and singing work were the arias done by the Queen and by Sarastro, as both have parts that go ridiculously high pitched and ridiculously low pitched respectively.

The orchestral work is even better. As the whole point of the opera is that the characters are saved by music, there is an incredibly heavy emphasis on the music especially. Every time the magic flute or the magic glockenspiel (which is like a xylophone thing, though it is often translated to “bell” in English for this opera) is played a specific piece of music is thrown into the piece to simulate the fact that the characters would be playing them. On top of that, every piece felt like it was completely unique to the all the other ones. Everything was also generally upbeat and fast paced to match with the fantasy tones of the story, and I always appreciate faster music myself. It is definitely not something you’ll be falling asleep to, that’s for sure.

Ultimately, The Magic Flute is a great opera musically and story wise. It will entertain to the very end even if it’s a somewhat difficult to follow plot. I would highly recommend this opera, however, if you have the chance you may want to see a more faithful adaptation scenography wise than the one here at Opera di Firenze. Yet, definitely don’t miss it if you’re like me and this is the only version you can catch live.

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