Friday, December 15, 2006

Were the Power Puff Girls Masons?

Today, I vacillated between purchasing either the DVD of the Barenboim hippie (not HIPpie, heh) Cosi fan tutte or the McVicar production of Zauberflote. I had narrowed down the field of choices to these two mainly because of my curiosity about Dorothea Roschmann, partly based on things I've read here, here, and here in blogoworld in addition to general recommendations for both of these DVD sets from places like operajaponica as reviewed by Mike Richter et al.

I finally decided upon the Zauberflote, mainly because I adored McVicar's realization of Giulio Cesare. Still in the process of viewing it (I have to take my opera video watching in doses, generally, because the frisson of a live performance is missing, and really, if I can make shredded chicken tacos with salsa verde whilst I watch/listen, I'm going to! sidenote: I am absolutely absorbed in Diana Kennedy's Mexican recipes/books), but I have a couple thoughts:

  1. Character delineation is kind of tough, given the general staticness of some of the characters that get major screen-time (I seem to remember reading somewhere that the First Lady has as much to sing as Pamina) and the general dopeyness quotient of some of the main characters like Tamino. How do you play the Prince as someone recognizably human?

    • he's not all together upstairs, which might explain his ridiculous naivete/easily repelled attempts to get into the castle

    • he's incredibly thick; or

    • he's very young and prone to melodramatics, not unlike Christina Ricci's character in Monster (sidenote: I was heavily perturbed by the movie, good as it was); emphasis on this point and Tamino's transformation into mental/emotional adulthood would make the whole opera work a lot more for me, because it's almost invariable that Tamino is a clunker, and not always based on voice alone. If a Tamino isn't interesting for the duration of his considerable stagetime, he'd better look pretty spectacular in this tights is all I'm saying

  2. Given how the ladies bicker, wouldn't it be plausible (and supremely awesome) to cast them as the Power Puff girls? Blossom = Sop1, Buttercup = Mezzo, Bubbles = Sop2 (are those the voice parts? shame on me!)

  3. It just dawned on me that the speed at which moral decisions are made in the opera, and the bases upon which they are justified, leave me a little queasy. Consider Pamina's Act 1 encounter with Sarastro:

    • Immediately, Sarastro can see that Pamina is pure of heart and good-intentioned. This not only syncs well with our understanding of the Konigen and Sarastro as preternaturally powerful beings, perhaps bordering on the omniscient, but this mention of Pamina's goodness also underscores Sarastro's later comments about the necessity of removing her out of the sphere of her mother's evil influence

    • Sarastro trusts her when she accuses Monostatos and unhesitatingly sentences M. to flogging, which begs the question

    • If Monostatos' true character eluded Sarastro's detection in the first place, how is it that he can easily dispense such physical punishment simply based on Pamina's accusation, which is based entirely on Sarastro's judgment of character, particularly ironic since it was presumably a lapse of judgment on Sarastro's part to have anything to do with Monostatos in the first place

    • This only heightens this weird preachy feeling I get with Zauberflote that doesn't sit well with me. It seems fairly proselytizing and conveniently sidesteps dramatic theory-of-mind, i.e., the audience isn't supposed to give a second thought to Monostatos' situation because we *see* that he is a villain and his punishment is just, regardless of the rightness of the means of determining guilt. We, the audience, know that Sarastro is doing what is right, but how does or can Sarastro know what he does is right? The libretto seems to sidestep this consideration entirely. When this motivation/responsibility is removed from a character, he/she loses a critical element of his/her humanity, which only feeds back into the first problem of making Zaubercharacters Menschencharacters

    • The problem of assigning good and evil to Sarastro and the Queen is particularly thorny given the initial and absolutely sincere (at least to me) musically sympathetic depiction of Die Konigen and the corresponding vilification of Sarastro. It's a Foucauldian/Fleckian power hierarchy unfolding itself (which, of course, both owe much to the idea of the winner of a conflict writing history to suit as an expression of the larger Machiavellian precept of might makes right) within the process of the opera that's particularly disturbing. I cannot, at this juncture, think of another opera in the standard (or even non-standard) repertory that presents to this audience such a dramatic about-face regarding evil/good sympathies in such an extreme way. I'll have to think about what sorts of implications this might have on my interpretation of the moral center of Zauberflote (if such a thing were to exist, that is -- prior to this thought developing, I had defaulted to Sarastro as the center. Now I'm not so sure).

  4. On a lighter note, does anybody else think that the whole "Tamino must be purified" thing, particularly following the punishment of Monostatos, sounds a whole lot like a frat hazing ritual?

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