Friday, November 09, 2012

His Rod of Bliss

A young man and woman passionately in love, moving together through trials of fire and water. They are seen safely through by the magic flute in the man's hands. Some might call Mozart's The Magic Flute (with a libretto by Emanuel Schikaneder), not naval gazing but rather penis gazing, maybe, for this. Though it's not quite so weighted as that--most of the opera shows the young man as being essentially helpless, protected and led through life by both the forces of good and evil. One is inclined to see Pamina pleased by the flute of the otherwise generally useless Tamino. Ingmar Bergman's 1975 film of the opera rearranges the plot in some ways I'm not completely on board with, but it is a beautiful film of a delightful opera.

Bergman uses the film's overture to show the faces of an audience for the opera, apparently reacting to the music as we watch. The movie features a lot of post-modern winks which in general I don't like but were sort of interesting and amusing in themselves. It's fascinating examining faces for the subtle changes wrought inside by the music. Bergman also employs a conceit wherein the singers playing the characters continue being the characters when offstage--as Tamino's goofy sidekick, Papageno, is introduced sleeping offstage, almost missing his cue for his first appearance. Sarastro is shown during intermission, rather appropriately, reading from a book on Parsifal.

Another change Bergman made was to make Sarastro the father of Pamina, who is also the daughter of the Queen of the Night, who sends Tamino to rescue her from Sarastro after the Queen's henchmen have saved Tamino from a monster. From the very beginning, Tamino is a pawn and other forces manipulate his progress throughout the story.

In this way he, Pamina, and Papageno have the quality of children going through school and training guided by parents and instructors. It's appropriate that Sarastro is made Pamina's father, then. He and the Queen represent two philosophies influencing the children. Good and evil, yes, but the Queen is also the one who gives Tamino the magic flute, to say nothing of saving his life right at the beginning. Perhaps Apollonian and Dionysian is better for describing the two--the Queen's desire for Tamino to murder Sarastro fits with her other actions not in terms of morality but it terms of severity. Sarastro would have patience and self-discipline, would have the children learn as they go through trials, while the Queen, using magic and murder, looks for instant results. Maybe more like the dark side of the Force than Dionysian.

The change I most dislike in Bergman's version is putting the trial after the duet between Papageno and Papagena. Certainly the bizarre, interpretive dance of sex is more for a filmmaker to sink his teeth into, but I love the idea of this serious digestion of the meaning of intimacy between man and woman followed by this absurd scene of Papageno and Papagena falling for each other basically just because they have similar names. There's just such a gleeful absurdity to it.

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