Saturday, January 27, 2007

...or not

A.C. Douglas weighs in on the Met Die Zauberflöte broadcast on PBS. He was, shall we say, far less critical than I. To a certain point, I think we agree on Taymor's staging: fantastic and faithful to the spirit of Mozart's Konzept (the only one that matters).

However, he had this to say about the "adaptation":

Surprisingly, the new English-language text for this version (by J.D. McClatchy who created an entirely new text, not a translation of the original German) was absolutely first-rate, and after a quick recovery from the initial jolt of hearing English spoken and sung rather than German, the words came across as a quite natural part of the musical and dramatic fabric of the piece. A most impressive accomplishment, indeed.

I still can't get over that. Mozart didn't write his transcendent music for English. Was Schikaneder's libretto perfect? Maybe; maybe not. However, I must be simply reactionary on this point. To dare to put new words to Mozart's music is, in A.C. Douglas' own words, prole-pandering of the worst sort. If the audience can't sit through even a truncated version of Die Zauberflöte auf Deutsch, then they should go watch Dreamgirls. It will be cheaper, more entertaining, and it won't throw mud on a tower of Western culture.

Everyone's happy. Especially people who care about, you know, culture.

Now, I expect that I will be told - in no uncertain terms - why I am not only wrong, but dead wrong. Fair enough. In Tom Petty's words, "I won't back down" on this one. If the Met is engaging in this sort of egregious restructuring of genius (though Frau Mozart thought Tito his best), then there is no hope for civilization. I could quote Cicero, and his comment the times and the mores. However, I want to quote Cato the Elder,

Karthago delenda est.


At 6:08 PM, Anonymous A.C. Douglas said...

Bloody intellectual snob!



At 9:36 PM, Blogger Patrick J. Smith said...

Well, even I have my limits. It might be snobbery, but I can live with that.

Butchering Die Zauberflöte, the first opera I ever owned, happens to touch a nerve I'd rather see left alone.

At 12:50 PM, Blogger J. D. McClatchy said...

I want to assure Mr. Smith that my adaptation of the "Flute" is not so free as he fears. Of course, this opera has been shortened and rearranged for two hundred years now, and I suspect that "the first opera I owned," by his account, may well have been the Beecham recording, which eliminated the dialogue completely. Anyone who actually saw the Met's production or watched the telecast will easily recognize the few liberties I've taken--mostly in the dialogue, in an effort to clarify the plot. And I tred for a more natural phrasing, not the usual opera-ese. We hated leaving things out--"Bei Mannern," Pamina's suicide scene, etc.--but mostly we trimmed rather than excised. In fact, the point was to give an audience the illusion that nothing was missing--and that's precisely what much of the reaction has been. Sharp-eyed observers like Mr. Smith are rightly more wary. (I wince at the word "butchering." Is that fair?) I assure him I'm as much a snob as he, but I don't think Mozart or Schikenader were . . . and wouldn't have objected to my faithful if abbreviated version. Like them, too, I'm delighted that the sold-out houses roared with approval.

At 1:38 PM, Blogger Patrick J. Smith said...

To be entirely fair, I appreciate Mr. McClatchy's defense. Still, my primary concern isn't with the cuts, but with the idea of translation in general. Just to clarify.

My first recording was Karl Böhm's 1964 recording on Deutsche Grammophon.

At 11:07 AM, Anonymous Karl Henning said...

I think it problematic to form any inflexible policy on translation, Patrick. To some degree, Mozart's purpose in Die Zauberflöte was bringing [some species of] opera closer to home . . . so resistance to translation into English for an American broadcast audience brings the oeuvre into some manner of conflict between the document, and the intent, yes?


At 12:27 PM, Blogger Patrick J. Smith said...

Well, Karl, we should leave Mozart in his context. There is no sense extending his intent at the time into a milieu he could neither predict nor quantify. What he would have done, confronted with a massive English-speaking audience, is a question for the ages. However, since we don't know, we should play it safe.

At 4:13 PM, Anonymous Karl Henning said...

Maybe singing in the vernacular is playing it safe? :-)


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