The Magic Flute (Die Zauberflote in German!)
Hello my musically inclined World Travelers! Today is going to be a thrilling post because it involves Berlin, Mozart, beautiful instruments, and a compelling/humorous opera. After traipsing around the Cold War city for a day, I donned a nice dress (in reality I was wearing dirty jeans and an even sketchier jacket) and an air of culture for an evening at the opera. Our local friend Peter had secured us tickets to The Magic Flute, a famous and beloved opera written by the prolific Mozart in 1791. Although the libretto (words to accompany the symphony) was penned by Johann Joseph Schickeneder, it is the iconic name of Mozart that is often remembered the most. The work was performed at the Deutsche Oper Hall in Berlin, a rather worn down building that nevertheless exuded a mien of class and sophistication. The other famous Opera Hall, the Staatsoper Unter den Linden Berlin, is breathtaking with its classical façade and imposing symmetry. I had never seen an Opera performed live before, and The Magic Flute was the perfect piece to introduce me to this expansive and interesting subset of music. To be entirely honest, high, trilling female voices on iTunes make my ears bleed, but hearing a live rendition was incredible. I no longer minded the whining voices because the dramatic makeup, facial expressions, and accompanying music were a feast for all senses. I sat nine rows from the pit, meaning I could see quite clearly the theatrical encounters playing out before me. Tickets were around 74 euros each (equivalent to $80.14), which was a fair price considering the ambiance and the explosive talent.
The lights dimmed to their tense, melodramatic settings, the orchestra struck up the famous overture of Mozart (which I recorded above), and the musical delight was carried on uninterrupted for six minutes. This overture was so grand, gentle, and playful that I almost wished it to continue without human voices and emotion staining it. However, once the thick velvet curtains swung heavily to the side, I was completely entranced by the opera before me. The impossibly low and window-shattering high notes were all executed in German, which made for an interesting albeit guttural sound. Luckily, a screen above the stage projected the lyrics in English and German so audiences from around the world could understand the talented gibberish. It is precisely the inclusion of song lyrics that made this opera so enjoyable. Instead of vainly trying to capture an intelligible word here and there, I could read the opera like an excellent novel, its plot and characters lining up straight and neatly in my brain. Without those precious words, the expressions and the general storyline of the opera would have remained a mystery to me. The plot behind The Magic Flute
is as follows: Tamino, a wayward Prince, is almost destroyed by a ravenous dragon until three promiscuous witches rescue him from the flaming jowls. Showing Tamino a portrait of the Queen of the Night’s lovely daughter, Pamina, he instantly falls in love with her bewitching looks and innocent air. However, this fairytale is tainted with despair because Pamina was captured by an evil priest, Sarastro (there is also a creepy priest attendant, Monostatos, on the prowl for her beauty as well). Skating through a series of trials and adventures, Tamino must prove himself worthy of marrying Pamina after he rescues her. Papageno, a charming secondary character, is nonetheless a much-loved favorite of nearly everyone watching this opera. He is Tamino’s friend and helper, ringing his magic bells while Tamino pipes on his Magic Flute when trouble arises. Like all stereotypical fairytales, the Queen of the Night is a wicked woman that eventually meets her inglorious downfall (after singing an amazing aria with vocal ranges more diverse than Teavana Teas). This story is a timeless classic and a perfect introduction to the opera genre, especially for younger children. In fact, hoards of schoolchildren were in the Opera Hall as well, laughing easily to Papageno’s expressions and clever jokes. The particular Papageno for my performance (Simon Pauly) was stellar, interacting with the crowd and adlibbing several lines to great effect. The actors for Tamino (Alvaro Zambrano) and Pamina (Heidi Stober) performed well enough, but the true vocal star of the show was the Queen of the Night, Hulkar Sabirova . Especially in her powerful aria “Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen” (“Hell’s vengeance boils in my heart”), Sabirova’s voice was incredibly dynamic and could rapidly change pitches at the drop of hat. Listen to the aria here
. Ante Jerkunica, the man who played Sarastro, also had a striking low voice that was richer than an 80% cacao Ghirardelli chocolate chip. Finally, one of the three witches (who had surprisingly sexual lines) actually attended a local high school in my county in Florida! Ronnita Miller, a mezzo soprano, played Dritte Dame; find out more about her here
The Berlin Philharmonic where the Orchestra practices!
The scenery for the opera was skillfully rendered, especially the quaking dragon at the beginning and the depiction of Tamino’s trials. As for the music, I didn’t listen to it specifically once the actors started singing, but I knew it was performed adroitly and with feeling. The whole ensemble was three hours long (including an intermission with abundant wine and beer), but the music and melodic voices were worth it. For my first opera ever, I enjoyed it immensely, especially because I was listening to the work of one of the greatest composers in Berlin, a stunning capital with fascinating history and a unique culture I haven’t encountered anywhere else on my travels.
Learn more about The Magic Flute plot here.
**Be sure to bring ample coins for the adjacent parking garage because it does not accept credit cards.**