Summer Reruns–Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: “Hm!, Hm!, Hm!,” from Die Zauberflote

Few works of classical music can make you laugh. Opera seems particularly ill-visited by the comic muse. Think of Tosca throwing herself of a parapet; Mimi dying of consumption; and Pagliacci stabbing his wife in a jealous rage. Not necessarily what I would call knee-slapping stuff. Even comic opera like The Barber of Seville doesn’t really make me dissolve in howls of laughter. But there is one aria from Die Zauberflote that does.

The opera opens with a dragon in hot pursuit of the Egyptian prince, Tamino. He swoons in fear, but just then, three ladies, the minions of the Queen of the Night, come to his rescue and slay the dragon. As noted in my previous post, Papageno then enters singing his aria, “Der Vogelfanger bin ich ja” (I am the, walrus, sorry “bird catcher”). The singing wakes Tamino, who asks if it was Papageno who saved his life. Papageno says yes, but the three ladies yell at him and for his impertinent lie, and lock his mouth shut.

There follows a hilarious duet between Tamino and Papageno, which, by dint of his condition, Papageno must hum. That piece still makes me laugh, even after 40 years.

Just why did that aria tickle my fancy so much? Probably in Mozart’s time period, people still believed in dragons and magic, so the previous scene with the dragon might have actually seemed frightening to Mozart’s audience. To relieve the stress, Mozart introduces a clown to lighten things up. I was wondering what role a willing suspension of disbelief might play in this. All opera requires this, because who in real life ever sings what’s on their mind unless they be aphasic? Maybe it’s the irony that for once a character in an opera can’t sing, and making him hum a duet despite that is funny. Good clean fun.

What this makes me realize, however, was how my sense of humor started to change as a result of living in the French House at Indiana University in the 1970s. I now wonder if the change was for the better. Until then my sense of humor had been fairly benign. I loved slapstick and corny jokes as a boy. In middle school we studied satire and sarcasm, but the intent was to poke fun of pompous authority figures. At the French House, among my highly vocal and articulate dorm mates, the two preferred forms of humor were wit and putdown, as is often the case with cliques. At the same time, because we were studying French, we all became obsessed with the concept of decadence, i.e., leading a voluptuous and sensual existence. Usually that gets translated into alcohol use and abuse, which tends to sap one’s creativity. The result was that many of us became cynical, lost our nerve, and abandoned our dreams. The clique often couldn’t deal with those who had clear goals and often these became the object of our ridicule or scorn.

I think of one of our dorm mates. He was a gifted singer, a baritone originally, who had discovered that by singing in falsetto, he had a perfect counter-tenor voice. He was active with the early music consort, and I went to see him once in a performance of Monteverdi’s Orfeo. Since he didn’t actively seek to ingratiate himself with our clique, they sniped at him, and he didn’t seem too bothered by it. His name was Drew Minter and he went on to have an international career as a counter tenor.

I’m kind of torn up about this now. The French House was the first place I ever felt accepted for my interests by more than just one or two people. If one lacks a strong sense of self, as was my case at the time, one will gravitate and accept the values of the group that offers acceptance. Now I realize that in identifying with the group of people at the French House I did just that. So perhaps it’s time to let go of that. I am thankful for having met them all. They taught me so much. But in the words of some sage, “when your memories become more real than your dreams, the end is near.”

So since then, I tried to remain objective and non-judgmental of other groups. I’ve also tried to avoid participation in groups that tend to set themselves up as different or better than others–especially cultural or social groups.

Here’s a bio of Drew Minter and him performing Handel’s Vaghe fonti (Arioso di Ottone) from Agrippina.


16 thoughts on “Summer Reruns–Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: “Hm!, Hm!, Hm!,” from Die Zauberflote

Add yours

  1. Interesting reminiscences once more.

    I confess I have always been immune to the Magic Flute. It has one or two nice tunes, but just doesn’t seem to grab me like a lot of Mozart does…


      1. It’s about the only ‘hit number’ from the entire show, as far as I’m concerned. Give me statues coming to life, people disguised as Albanians, the whole nine yards, but this opera just doesn’t push the right buttons for me, and I am at a loss to say why!


      1. Yes, I kind of think that was the point. Aside from the Masonic crap, I think he was trying to write something light and for the common person. It’s like spaghetti alla puttanesca.


      2. Stuff for the common person I can live with. I’m a common person. ‘The Magic Flute’ I have tried to like – just the same as I listened to every track by Led Zeppelin because someone insisted they were the greatest rock band ever – but the magic did not work. I wonder if Mozart somehow ‘wrote down’ to his audience? I don’t know. But to me it just does not have the necessary spark.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Many composers took popular song and “wrote it up” for the “uncommon?” person. My wife grew up in what was then a gritty part of Brooklyn. In their early teens, her peers were doing drugs, boozing and getting pregnant (circa 1976). Laura was content reading, studying, taking music and dance lessons, paid for by her concentration camp surviving mother and postal worker dad. She was a straight A student. One day, a local tough came up to her on the street and confronted her, all up in her face, saying: “Hey, I hear you don’t do drugs. You don’t smoke weed. You don’t drink.”
    “Yes,” she said.
    “So, what do you do?”
    So what classical and what rock music do you do?


    1. Indeed they did. I believe ‘Unto Us A Child Is Born’ from ‘Messiah’ is one such.

      You ask me a difficult question. I could almost say that I don’t really see the walls between genres of music (or between any genre of artistic or creative endeavour and another), but that isn’t quite true, as I am acutely aware of what makes each discrete. I could almost say that my pleasure in music, and therefore my musical choices, is/are visceral, except for the fact that I enjoy the exercise of intellect. I could say, for example, that I like something as unsophisticated as Bluegrass, but on the other hand that genre has its own unique kind of sophistication. I could say I don’t appreciate the banal in any genre, but then a cheesy pop song will come along and appeal to me. I could pluck names from each genre – Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, the MJQ from jazz, or early Kinks from 1960s rock, or Otis Redding from Memphis-style soul, or the Foo Fighters, or Ligeti from the modern era of ‘serious’ music – but that might not mean I would follow them slavishly or uncritically or that I would not appreciate the music of better-known or less-well-known artistes. Basically when it comes to Mozart, I ‘do’ Mozart, but have never warmed to ‘The Magic Flute’, and that brings us full circle.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. “Comfort Me” and “Evry Valley” are my two favorites. Then there’s Doc Watson’s “Tenessee Stud,” which never fails to pluck a heartstring or two.


      2. That reminds me of two of my favorites from that piece: “Comfort Me” and “Every Valley.” I think Ode to Joy was a German beer drinking song. Aside from Celine Dion, I think there’s sublime in most any genre, for example this, which never fails to tug at my heartstrings somehow.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: