Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A magical evening

Okay, it's not my favorite opera. In fact, it's probably my least favorite Mozart opera. The music is great, but the pompous, misogynistic libretto always annoys me. So this weekend's performance offered a threefer. A ballet choreographed by Stephen Mills. Mozart's music. And no words! Just ninety minutes of wonderful dancing and innovative scenes (they used shadow-puppet type screens for things like the serpent at the begining and Pamina and Tamino's trials by water and fire at the end.) Papageno was brilliantly done, with a flock of dancers in brilliant tutus following him as his "birds" - a lot better than having him carry the traditional cage. The pas de deux of repentance and forgiveness between Pamina and Sarastro brought tears to my eyes.

Just one quibble, and it's a minor one. Sarastro is supposed to be a great, wise, benevolent magician, the foil to the evil Queen of the Night (which always leads me to speculate: if he's all virtue and she's all vice, how did they get together to beget Pamina?). Anyway, I've never heard a Sarastro who was half as impressive as the Queen of the Night, but I thought that might be the fault of the pompous, mystical, misogynistic lines he's given.

Alas, even in ballet he just isn't very convincing. Maybe that's because of the intrinsic difficulty of portraying Good vs. Evil. (After all, in Paradise Lost, Lucifer has all the best lines.) Then, the costuming for this production didn't help: difficult for any man to look great and impressive in a white dress and ballet slippers. When he was joined by six priests in slightly shorter white dresses and they all started pirouetting around the stage I found myself thinking that it's been a long time since I read Greenmantle, and that triggered what they reminded me of: whirling dervishes.

Anyway, apart from the whirling dervishes, it was a fine ballet and I hope it has many more performances. Even Steve enjoyed it, though being ignorant of the plot he seldom had any idea what was supposed to be going on. I did try to explain to him that the "plot" of this particular opera is of such mind-numbing stupidity that it's impossible for the human brain to retain it, but he kept squinting at the program notes and trying to make sense of it. Having heard the opera enough times to know there is no sense to be made, I was able to just relax and enjoy the dancing.

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