The Magic Flute, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, performed by the Rundfunkchor Leipzig, Staatskapelle Dresden, and Sir Colin Davis
I must say that I did not get as much out of this opera as I would have if I would have either understood German better or if I had the lyrics of the songs before me in translation so that it was easier to understand what is being said. There are, after all, disadvantages to listening to an opera on two cds in one’s car when one cannot scan papers at leisure as opposed to going to the opera live and seeing a well-done performance in person. The Magic Flute is something that I have long known about more than knowing deeply. I have listened to isolated tracks of it because a friend of mine was obsessed with the opera and shared tracks from it with everyone he knew. I like opera enough to listen to that sort of thing, I must admit. Likewise, I have listened to bits from the opera a few times as part of the larger context of Mozart’s work as an operatic composer with the opera serving as a part of the Great Western operatic and compositional tradition. Most listeners will probably have this sort of background as well.
There are definitely some parts of this opera that were familiar to me, beyond having heard snippets of them before. Most notably, the theme for the Queen of the Night is something that is regularly used as part of the larger culture with a lot of references, and it is very funny to think of the way that every soprano seems to think that she is the Queen of the Night even when she is definitely not nearly good enough to sing such an aria. For me, the most fascinating aspect of the opera, aside from its cultural references and its relevance as an important German opera, is the fact that the opera itself expresses an optimistic view of brotherhood that comes from the librettist’s experience within the Freemasons. I happen to disagree with this sort of optimism, but at the same time I definitely find it to be an interesting matter. It is not too surprising that Western elites, especially those who had cosmopolitan tastes and backgrounds, would find this sense of optimism enjoyable. But for all of the fun of the story, I must admit that knowing a great deal about it didn’t really do anything for me personally. The two disks here are certainly beautiful sounding and generally very upbeat and preserve the good feeling that one gets from listening to Mozart, but I didn’t get as much out of it as I would have expected to see.