Posted by: mindyourknitting | September 14, 2009

Opera Trista

Saturday night my husband and I went out for dinner then attended the opening night of Opera Lyra Ottawa’s performance of Mozart’s The Magic Flute (or Die Zauberflöte, for you purists).  We had dinner on the terrace of Le Cafe, the National Arts Centre’s in-house restaurant.  It was a warm evening with little breeze, and we sat under an awning at a linen-draped table overlooking the Rideau Canal.  We both had a Kir Royal before dinner, and it tasted like Paris.  We drank Kirs with almost every dinner during the week we spent in Paris, on the trip that culminated in our engagement (after another memorable dinner, that one at Brasserie Flo, but that’s a story for another time).  We are very nostalgic about that trip, and our dinner on the terrace brought me back to a time when we were dating and had far fewer obligations and responsibilities.  We have always promised each other that we will go back to Paris, and see other parts of France, not too far into the future.  Our three-hour, unhurried dinner was a rare luxury, and the food was delicious.  But the conversation and company was better.

At eight o’clock we took our third-row Orchestra seats, and the red curtain came up.  The NAC Orchestra was guest-conducted by Pinchas Zukerman, and we were close enough to the musicians that we could watch them play.  I had never been to an opera, but luckily The Magic Flute is an excellent introduction to the form.  It is equal parts comedy and drama, has beautiful music, a compelling story, and is visually stunning with extravagant costumes and interesting sets.  There is a great deal of Egyptian and Masonic symbolism in the costumes, sets, and story, and I have read that Masonic elements are also present in the music itself.  These sorts of details fascinate me – to weave details into so many elements must have taken such concentration, such determination that the insertion of these things were obviously very important to Mozart.  But why?  Was he a Mason?  Do you know?  If so, his approach to women (“chattering ladies” jokes aside) is more puzzling, since the heroine, Pamina, is initiated into the Temple alongside Tamino.  What starts off as a typical “prince-rescues-damsel-from-big-bad” story turns into something very different.  

The Magic Flute combines songs and spoken word, and in this version the songs were sung in the original German (with subtitles in English and French projected on a screen in the theatre’s rafters) and the speech was in English.  The use of subtitles was useful, but it made me realize that it takes a lot longer to say something in German than in English – a short line of written text took a very long time to be sung in German.  And a long, dramatic line of song could mean anything from “I would rapturously hold her to my ardent heart” to “So, you’re leaving?”

The music was beautiful.  Funny Papageno stole the show, and the Queen of the Night was captivating (she sings that one song that everyone knows…it’s amazing what can be done with the human voice).  Monastatos was kind of shaky and at one point he seemed to grasp for words.  And did I mention he was blue?  Blue, as in he could have guest-starred in the Blue Man Group.  If the Blue Man Group hired Moors.  And he had a big, shiny, smurfy blue bald head.  Pamina’s talking voice was a little too Dorothy Gale for me, with every line delivered oh so earnestly (and Erik noticed that her head shot in the play bill was perhaps a few years out of date…) but she can be forgiven because she sang, and oh what a voice when she did.

Sitting in the audience all I could think about was that centuries ago an audience sat in a theatre watching exactly the same opera.  I would love to know what it looked like to them, what has changed with repeated renditions, if they laughed at the same bits and held their breath during the suspensful moments.  I could picture the late-eighteenth century audience watching to see what Mozart had come up with now, holding their breath to see if it would be brilliant.  And it was.

This charmed evening was capped off with a drive out to my parents’ house to pick up our daughter at almost midnight because she decided that sleeping overnight at Gramma & Grampy’s was a one-shot deal, so this time she would not sleep.  She went to bed at the usual time and slept for a couple of hours, then got up and happily played until we went to get her.  So the end of the evening brought us crashing back to our reality, which is also pretty charmed, in its way.


  1. Hi!
    yes Mozart and his long-time friend Emanuel Schikaneder (the first Papegano and author of the libretto) were Masons.

  2. Thank you! I had no idea and find that really fascinating.

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