In Praise of The Magic Flute

A number of productions of Mozart’s opera are taking place in Australia at around this time, and while I probably won’t see any of them they’ve led me to turn again to a version of it on one of the first CDs I bought, that in which Kiri Te Kanawa sings Pamina (further back lies a dimly recollected and most enjoyable movie version directed by Ingmar Bergman.) It’s an astonishingly satisfying work, in which two frenzied and very similar arias of the soprano Queen of the Night (‘O zittre nicht, mein lieber Sohn’; ‘Der Hoelle Rache konnte in meinen Hertzen’), and the wonderful solemnity of the bass Sarastro’s ‘In diesen heil’gen Hallen’ that comes just after the second of the Queen’s outbursts and nicely balances it, completely overshadow the voices of the young couple, immensely touching as their singing is.

But the main reason for my loving this opera is that it is pure Mozart. His sure-footedness of melody and poised delicacy resemble the flowing motion of a cat walking along the top of a wall; there’s a kind of inevitability in every step. More than any other composer, Mozart gives us ‘sounds and sweet airs, that give delight, and hurt not.’ According to Karl Barth, when the angels play for God they play Bach, but when they play for their own pleasure it’s Mozart. I know what he means.

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