By Music Director Ben Makino
(All production images courtesy of Joey Miller, 2015)
In this post, I thought I’d show some of the considerations that contribute to an interpretation of The Magic Flute by looking at two of its arias: The Queen of the Night’s Act I aria (O zittre nicht) and Pamina’s Act II aria (Ach, ich fühl’s).
I would like to mention before starting that a work like The Magic Flute has accumulated an enormous volume of analysis over the past two-hundred-twenty-five years, and that I am certain that nothing I mention here will have been an original idea, though it may have come through my own study of the score. Also, one of the connections mentioned below, the use of coloratura, came to me from through Michael Sakir, who credits Adam Boyles of the MIT Symphony Orchestra.
At first glance the arias are connected broadly by their keys, both occupying a key scheme of g-minor/B-flat major. They are also more loosely connected through meter–the slow section of the Queen’s aria in ¾, Pamina’s in a quicker 6/8.
Listen to this moment here.
Looking more closely, the opening lines of each aria outline the same general contour, beginning with a descending line from D-natural to G-natural, and ending with an appoggiatura from E-flat to D-natural:
Hear this part of Pamina's aria online.
They also connected through the use of coloratura:
Listen for the parallels here and here!
A little less clear is this deceptive cadence (the end of a phrase that ends in an unexpected manner) that in the Queen’s aria looks like this:
(Which sounds like this.)
But in Pamina’s aria is a bit obscured, enclosed in the red square:
Listen for the moment here.
As in all aspects of interpretation, sussing out a specific meaning and importance for these mirrored passages relies on the experience and taste of the performers. Regardless their strong similarities, they are still to some extent dramatically ambiguous and beg thoughtful interpretation.
As an added bonus, in Papageno’s “suicide” aria there is a parody of the cadential sequence illustrated above. Like Papageno himself, his attempts at achieving true tragic weight are thwarted by his underlying comic nature and he doesn’t quite get the musical cadence right, in spite of trying twice.
Hear Papageno's attempt to channel the Queen and Papagena's tragic sensibility here.
All of this is just illustrates the tiniest piece of the fabric of connected ideas that are part of The Magic Flute, that set it apart from so many works that preceded and followed it, and that anticipate the highly unified music dramas of Richard Wagner over sixty years later.
All of the text is from the English translation by Andrew Porter that we are performing during this production.