Once upon a time somewhere between the moon and the sun, three ladies–in-waiting saved a bewildered prince from a very big, very nasty serpent. After they leave to tell the Queen of the Night, a smart-alecky bird catcher arrives. He sees the dead serpent, the loopy prince, and takes credit for the rescue.
So goes the opening scene in Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,” a silly but charming buddy-opera that has captivated audiences for 225 years.
Consider treating yourself this weekend to one of the greatest comic operas ever written. Mozart’s “Magic Flute” will be screened by The MET Live in HD at 10:55 a.m. Saturday in the Student Union at Fort Lewis College. The Vallecito Room is a comfy, black-as-night, pretend movie palace where Met Opera fans gather Saturday mornings throughout the year for live transmissions. Tickets are $23 general, $21 seniors at the Welcome Center or at the door.
A caution: Despite the triumphant opening scene, the road to an inevitable happy ending is far from smooth. Fantastic creatures and other villains almost derail the prince’s quest for love, freedom and power.
Since it was created in 1791, “Flute” has been re-imagined many times, most whimsically by America’s own theatrical magician, Julie Taymor. Her 2006 production launched The MET Live in HD 10 years ago. To celebrate the anniversary, the Met is screening this family-friendly, English-language, puppet-filled production all over the world.
Though she created “Flute” first, Taymor is famous for her spectacular Broadway production of “The Lion King,” and you’ll see her signature masks, headdresses and blazingly colorful costumes.
The production, wrote Alex Ross in The New Yorker, is a “shimmering cultural kaleidoscope with all manner of mystical and folk traditions blending together.”
In the last decade of the 18th century, Emanuel Shickaneder, a Viennese actor-impresario, urged Mozart to compose a popular opera to be sung in German. They both needed money, and Mozart was seriously ill. He rallied to create “Flute,” an early form known as a Singspiel, or song-play – the ancestor of today’s musical theater.
The Met’s “Flute” is sung and spoken in English in this abbreviated version. It runs about 100 minutes without intermission.
Schickaneder wrote the book, a light-hearted allegory about the human quest for meaning. The story centers on Prince Tamino who accepts the Queen’s charge to rescue her daughter, Pamina, from the evil priest, Sarastro. To do so, Tamino must pass a series of tests. And Papageno, his sidekick, has his own low-down problems. Together, they stumble through a landscape filled with innumerable obstacles and splendidly odd creatures.
So many operas, movies and even contemporary plays reinterpret fairytales that I decided this winter to read at least one a day. I’ve been immersed in works by the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen for a while – not to mention Schickaneder.
Given Disney’s sanitized version of Andersen’s great story, “The Little Mermaid,” it’s enlightening to read the original (1837). “The Great Sea Serpent” is another, published in 1871. It bears no relation at all to Schickaneder’s “Flute,” but it suggests Andersen’s attitude toward the telegraph and the first trans-Atlantic cable, the great serpent of the title.
At the bottom of the ocean, a huge, silent creature has invaded the world of ordinary fish and they respond with fear and wonderment.
If you go to “Flute,” you’ll probably experience only the latter.
email@example.com. Judith Reynolds is a Durango writer, art historian and arts journalist.