Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: “Der Holle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen” from Die Zauberflote

We folks who lived in the French House were addicted to foreign films. Indiana University had a very good film studies program, and you could buy passes to the films that were shown for the various courses. One semester they taught Italian neo-realism and featured Felinni, Pasolini, Antonioni, De Sica and Rosselini. Another semester, the Germans were covered by Murnau, Stronheim, Wenders, and Herzog. This was just around the time that Structuralism was starting to gain ground in academic circles, and in one course they deconstructed the films of the Americans John Ford, Nicholas Ray, and Sammy Fuller. By far the most important international filmmaker of the time, however, was Igmar Bergman, and showings of his films were always packed.

I had seen Bergman’s Cries and Whispers with some high school pals the year before and its strong emotions and lush sensuality juxtaposed with images of death affected me deeply. Bergman’s films were all like that.  Sometimes his symbolism was so palpable–like when Death appears in The Seventh Seal and plays chess with the Knight–that you kind of felt bludgeoned by it. Though I wouldn’t call Bergman a happy camper, when you’re an adolescent and caught up in existential angst, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, so we all lapped his films up in the French House.

So imagine our surprise when we found out that Bergman had filmed Mozart’s opera, Die Zauberflote. We wondered what kind of dark spin he would put on this otherwise upbeat and engaging opera. Bergman seemed to play it straight. He starts out showing a group of people listening to the overture in a small theatre. When cast appears, he makes them appear quaint, with kind of Peter Pan costumes and almost tacky props. Little by little though, he lets the magic take over and the production becomes more and more fantastic and artful. Maybe that was the Bergman’s goal: to destroy Brecht’s notion that the audience should never give itself over completely to a play and remember that it is not reality. Despite all attempts to prevent oneself from willingly suspending disbelief, the whole purpose of art is to do just that. That is to connect at a more visceral than intellectual level and change a person’s reality for a time being in order to perceive a different reality (maybe that of the Other).

This opera got a lot of play in the French House. Cynthia Cummings, the resident diva, listened to it quite a bit and the aria entitled “Der Holle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen” (Hell’s vengeance seethes in my heart) became one of her favorites. I have never asked a soprano, but to me it seems the most demanding aria ever written.

The Queen of the Night sings this aria and in it, she tells her daughter to murder the Queen’s enemy, Sarastro. The soprano must sing at a break neck speed, and also express the passion of hate. For Mozart, who penned some of the most beautifully sweet music, this aria expresses a depth of emotion sometimes absent in his work. But he cannot resist making it one of the most beautiful arias ever written as well. At the most passionate part, the soprano slips up to an incredibly high range and vocalizes a tune that almost sounds like a bird, it is so high and rapid. Later she trills and runs glissandi up and down in the most fluid of ways. The effect sends chills down one’s spine.

We all became smitten with the aria at the French House. After a while, it became almost a joke. Most everyone, men and women, tried singing along with it at one time or other. Years later as a father, I bought a CD of the opera and played it for my daughters. The youngest, Simone, age 7 at the time, walked around for a few days singing the Queen of the Nigh aria. To me that kind of sums up the Magic of Die Zauberflote.

Download MP3s or buy CD of Mozart’s <i> Die Zauberflöte</i> from Amazon

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About kurtnemes
Writer and Education Professional. Specialties include Ethics, Personal Memoir, Classical music, Tai Chi, Stress Reduction, Meditation, Coping, Classical Music, Aging, Love, Joy, Compassion and Equanimity (& what interests me.)

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