Friday, January 26, 2007

Salve Regina!

Flipping through the channels, I stopped on my local PBS affiliate, WFYI, when I heard Mozart's overture to Die Zauberflöte. It was the Metropolitan Opera production by Julie Taymor with James Levine in the pit. During the overture, the filmed version showed the backstage stuff. Nice. The production is stylized, not so much as Robert Wilson's Parsifal, but still captures the fantasy and otherworldliness of Mozart's farewell (likely unintentional) to the stage. I don't know that I would have made use of some of the conventions Taymor adopts, but I can appreciate her refusal to modernize Zauberflöte out of a sense of postmodern oh-so-hip irony.

Then the tenor started singing. I am used to Fritz Wunderlich, Peter Schreier, or Anton Dermota opening with "Zu Hilfe! Zu Hilfe!"

Not so lucky, Mr. Smith, not so lucky. The production was, as they might say in Vienna, auf Englisch.

Auf Englisch?!

So it seems. Now, I'm no great shakes as a musicologist, but I seem to recall that Schikaneder's libretto was in German. The libretto that Mozart had in mind when he wrote his music was in German. To make me even more furious, the translation isn't - Shall we say? We shall. - "literal." Which is to say, it doesn't even come close. I'm not a "gist guy." It's either German or it's not, because there is no way that a literal English translation can still hit the beats. Why? Nothing, dear reader, could be simpler: Mozart didn't score it for English.

Maybe we should, you know, follow Mozart. It isn't like he didn't redefine and revolutionize opera. Several times.


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