Oberlin Blogs

"Get your feathers out of my nose"

March 14, 2009

Zoe McLaughlin ’11

As a young child, I had a cassette tape called Mozart's Magic Fantasy: A Journey through the Magic Flute. It told the story of the opera for kids, with notable changes that, in my heart of hearts, I still believe are the true story. The dragon, for example, lives, and becomes good friends with Papageno. I listened to it religiously, so it's really no wonder that one of my two favorite operas today is The Magic Flute. (The other is Carmen, which doesn't really connect.)

Yesterday, I got to see my first ever live performance of The Magic Flute, put on (of course) by Oberlin Conservatory students. Going into the performance, I was a bit skeptical. It was going to be sung in English, and I'm always a little wary of translations. More than that, I'm partial to the German, even if I don't understand most (read: any) of it.

The English worked for me, though, and it certainly beat having to read super-titles through the whole show. Sometimes, the word choice was a bit odd, but most of the time, the translation to modern English worked and kept the spirit of the opera. Papageno, essentially a humanized bird and bird catcher, sang about how he wanted to catch chicks. And when he said "chicks," he didn't mean those little yellow baby chickens.

The opera had minimal set pieces, which I also liked. Interestingly, a ladder was used frequently, with one or more characters climbing on it at any one time. There was a fantastically hilarious scene between Papageno and Monostatos, one on either side of the ladder, as they peered over at each other and convinced themselves that they were seeing the Devil.

Monostatos, needless to say, was suitably creepy. Sorastro's people, interestingly enough, were creepy, too. I'd never realized how cultish their religion is, until I saw them all lined up in their black clothes with gold accents, with only minimal light shining on them. Obviously, the costuming and lighting were done well.

At times, I had to remind myself that I wasn't watching a ballet performance that I would then have to give notes on. This mainly convinced me that I've been spending too much time in leadership roles at my ballet school. Luckily, it didn't detract from my enjoyment of the performance. Instead, it actually gave me a greater appreciation for the work that the performers had put into this.

Lastly, let me just say that Papageno was awesome. His role, more than anyone else's, lends itself to comedy. He made music jokes (including a viola joke), referenced opera in general, and broke the fourth wall. He also managed to make the hanging scene, which can come off as strange, very funny and believable for his character. Plus, during the duet with Papagena, there were three little kids who came onstage, and children onstage are probably one of the cutest things, ever.

Now, I must resign myself to a weekend of studying in preparation for the midterm madness of next week.

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