Flauting Flute Problems
Now that my daughter has turned one, I’m re-re-dedicating myself to this blog!!! I can say this with confidence because I have several firm deadlines for blog postings from outside forces! In the coming months I will be posting a series of blogs that will supplement the program note of my upcoming recitals in February and March. Program notes demand a certain tonal formality and some degree of scholarship, but I am always wanting to share my more amateur and colloquial hot takes on Berlioz, for example, so my blog will be their home. Also, I will be curating NYFOS Song of the Day Blog from Nov. 30—Dec. 4. All you Applenuts must check it out and incorporate this great blog into your daily ablution routine for artistic hygiene. I will be focusing on the theme of the Dec. 8 NYFOS Schubert and Beatles program in my selections–Don’t tell Allan Kozinn!
Since I am using her as an excuse, I owe you dearly-appreciated readers some knowledge of my perfect daughter, Theodora, or Teddy to her friends. Her mother and I named her Theodora because we wanted her to remember each day that life is a gift and joy lies in appreciating that fact. She is a happy and healthy 12-month old and we are doing our best to deal with parenthood combined with the heavy travel schedule that this singing career entails. Learning to juggle Skype schedules in various time zones is hard!
I don’t want to leave you with such a house-cleaning, boring post, so I will add my two pennies to the meaning of The Magic Flute as I’m coming to the end of a run of Taminos out here in San Francisco (closes Nov. 20). I don’t have a full exegesis of the play to offer, but I do have a retort to a complaint about the show I have heard a lot lately: the story is dramaturgically incoherent. Namely, Tamino (and the audience) is presented with a narrative in which the Queen of the Night is the aggrieved, righteous party and Sarastro is a bösewicht!! Then with barely a noticeable pivot, it’s the Act I finale, good is evil, up is down, and just like that the Queen of the Night (all women for that matter) signifies unqualified evil. Many Flute consumers have a tendency to blame it on clumsy writing coupled with a healthy dose of misogyny. I tend to think that the whole point of the story is not that Sarastro good, QotN bad, but that both perspectives are relatable but neither is entirely righteous. The new generation must take what wisdom it can from its forebears and attempt to create a more just, peaceful world. In other words, Tamino and Pamina only have what older people tell them to go on. The hard part for them is to reject parts of what they’ve learned and build on the good parts to fashion their own vision of the world and their own values. Bringing this post full circle, as a new parent I am experiencing this feeling on a daily basis. I am very aware of the things about my parents’ parenting that I want to emulate and things I want to avoid. This doesn’t mean I don’t love them or that they weren’t terrific parents, or that I won’t do things as a parent that my daughter will one day vow not to do when she becomes a parent. This tendency we as humans have to make a better world for our children is the source of the greatest hope for the human race. This plot arch as one that describes the glory of humanity’s potential for progress and glorifies that struggle.
This includes the misogyny that pervades the piece. No doubt that Sarastro and the boys spew plenty of horrible woman-hating platitudes, and no doubt such views were sincerely held by Flute’s original audience and creators. But, like Mozart’s contemporaries, our American founding fathers—these genii of the enlightenment—constructed documents that allowed for interpretations that evolve with the times. Maybe Mozart and Schikaneder intended the message of Flute to be “listen to men not women,” but they left enough room in the libretto to eschew that reading, and they included enough pure beauty to suggest something more just and enlightened than what a single, misguided patriarchal personage says.