I spent four glorious hours at London’s Southbank Centre (my favourite place in the world) earlier this month, listening to and participating in discussion about my favourite opera, Mozart’s ‘The Magic Flute‘. My love for and interest in this sublime opera goes back 19 years – when I was living in Frankfurt studying German – and had to choose two topics in which to take an in-depth exam. Due to my interest in history and politics, I chose the Nazi Period. Due to my love of music (playing and listening), I chose the Magic Flute.
The Southbank Magic Flute event was superb, not only because attendees were treated to two marvellous live performances of character ‘The Queen of Night’s’ arias by musicians Nicola Said and Erica Gundesen, but also because of the speakers’ exploration of important social and political themes that emerged in the opera: misogyny, free masonry, class, race, religion and mysticism.
The opera’s plot appears ‘black and white’ at first. An innocent and pure young daughter (Pamina) is rescued from her evil mother (The Queen of Night) by her wise, honourable and upstanding father (Sarastro). However, I have always felt that The Queen of Night wasn’t really as ‘evil’ as she’s made out to be. Having listened to and studied this opera inside out, I really do believe that there should have been a third act that would reveal that The Queen of the Night was – as they say in the common parlance – royally “stitched up”.
In my opinion, making the Queen’s character ‘evil’ in the opera was yet another example of so-called enlightened men’s attempts to put down and subdue any woman with the gumption to see herself as strong and powerful. A continuation of what they had already done throughout history by labelling feisty women as ‘witches’ and other negative terms.
Pamina’s father wants custody of her, in my view, to shape her into the type of woman that is acceptable to him and his fellow men. It’s all about control. After all, at the time the opera was written, Mary Wollstonecraft was becoming more prominent and Marie Antoinette had been overthrown in France. It appears the ‘enlightenment’ of the time only applied to men, and strong women were to be feared and smeared in order to put them back in their place.
It was so wonderful to explore this theory and many other theories with other Magic Flute lovers. It’s not something I’ve been able to speak to anyone about before this event!
I am so grateful to the wonderful Southbank Centre for putting on this wonderful event with crème de la crème speakers including Simon Callow who I was lucky enough to meet afterwards.
Despite my reservations about misogynistic elements of the plot, I recommend the music in the opera wholeheartedly. When I listen to it – especially The Queen of Night’s superb Aria – I feel empowered. If you want to relieve stress and restore a good mood, I recommend playing it very loudly and singing at the top of your voice, as I have done many times over the last 19 years!