Mozart's Queen of the Night: Outrage Out of This World
I always talk about how singing Queen is a night is like throwing darts with your eyes closed. You have it darting your hand. You know, exactly where the bullseye. Is you shut your eyes? And you toss it. From wwl wicks are in the Metropolitan Opera this sorry. I'm Rhianna Giddens sheets, murderous. She's Fench full. She's got a knife that she gives her daughter, and she's trying to incite her daughter to murder every episode. We take apart one aria and then put it back together. So you can hear it in a whole new way today, we're going into the stratosphere with differ from Mozart's beat Salva floater or the magic flute through something almost supernatural about the register. She's singing it. That in itself reaches out and grabs us in our kind of neat sense of fascination with evil. The euro was born do I have to say it. Nineteen seventy seven NASA sent two probes into space to take a look around. And just in case they ran into anyone or anything. Yes. I'm talking about aliens. Now, they put a golden record and each probe. And these records are like time capsules they've got pictures sounds and music representing the best of life on earth. As we knew it in nineteen seventy seven the ideas that if an alien spins it on its alien turntable. It will learn what it means to be human now. Amidst all the wonderful music on that record. It only has one aria. And I'll bet you've heard it even if you're not a hard opera fan. It's the Queen of the night's big moment in Mozart's, the magic flute so in German, the Arias called the caulk the Mina Manson, which means hell's vengeance boils in my heart. Well, there's a lot of love songs off pra, and this is not one of them. It's a rage fest. Sung by an anger Queen. She's angry because her late husband left, his temple to the high priest Zoroastro instead of to her in this aria, she hands a knife to her daughter Meena and tells assassinate Sarah Ostro and disobeys she'll be disowned and cursed. Well, thanks, mom. All right. Clearly, there's a lot to unpack here. So time to call in some decoders. I just had a baby. Seven weeks ago. A little baby girl, I up soprano, Catherine Luek. I mean, I remember saying this world venture times when I was pregnant with her and suddenly took on this new. Meaning I kept saying that joking around with everybody. I hope that she doesn't understand German because this text is pretty harsh. She's one of the most sought after queens the night in the world. We also have Caroline body. Visit difference between beautiful and sublime a musical adjust at Harvard who's written several books on Oprah. The old definition of sublime was it's something that's both beautiful and frightening. And that is where I would put this aria for the Queen of the night. And Jan sweltered never left as much running a book as I have read about boats are a composer writer, who's written biographies of is Brahms and Beethoven. He was hilarious. Even when he wasn't being sort of. Rabidly ab- saying he didn't have to be rapidly obscene to be hilarious, often, rabidly, obscene and hilarious. Now, they're gonna tell us all about why the Queen of the night, our reflects the pinnacle of human chievements, and then as a special treat, we'll hear from one of the men who produced that golden record about why this was the only area that made the cut. And now we're ready for launch. From the magic flute in. The first time I heard the magic flute was the summer before. I went to graduate school to be a composer. I figured well. I should know more about Mozart's operas. In my summer job of cleaning floors. I ran across next door at the record store. A deluxe edition of the magic flute. I immediately bought it with the last fifty dollars that my wife, and I had to our name and brought it home, and that she would be pleased with my devotion to art. And she was not. And after the screaming was over I sat down and listen to it and the trouble with the first time, I listened to the magic flute as I hated it. Quick summary. I guess is a classic tale of boy meets girl and full in love, and it's prince Tommy, no who is prince of faraway land. And he comes into this world where has a restaurant in the Queen are currently feuding because the Queen of nights husband has passed away. And all the power of the land has been transferred to Rostro instead of to the Queen. And she thinks why do I not have power here women's power here hashtag and the Queen of the night has to take things into our own hands. And she sends prince on a quest rescue her daughter who's been kidnapped and outfits him with a talisman the magic flew from which the opera gains its title. But in the course of act one pivotal scene where Camino learned. That the daughter wasn't kidnapped. She was actually taken away from her mother for good by Rostro who is not an evil wizard. He's actually the high priest temple of wisdom. And so in the course of act to the Queen of the night is said to throw off her mask reveal herself in her true form, that's one of the things that makes it such an interesting character because she simply switches from a sympathetic character. Somebody who's really, very frightening, the evil mother, she's murderous. She's vengeful. She's got a knife that she gives her daughter, and she's trying to incite her daughter to murder, and she says to Meena. All right. That's you gotta kill Rostro because we've gotta take the power back for ourselves. Do you see this dagger? And it's been sharpened for our Ostro. You will kill him. If you love me and threatens her daughter with attornal. Alienating between the two of them. If her daughter doesn't follow her orders. She's desperate. She's at the end of her line. It's like a child's nightmare of what a parent turn into if they were very angry and had passed through anger to complete loss of control. The two things that turn me off. When I first heard the Queen of the night. Sorry, we're I that I didn't buy the switch of character. And Secondly that I didn't understand how the music that Mozart wrote. For those words express those words because in some ways, I thought it sounded too happy and all this dancing around in the stratosphere register with music that sounds like a bugle, call literally upbeat beep, beep beep, but he's not using his kind of usual dark side. And I finally came to realize that part of what makes it so scary because she's a scary character is that there's something almost supernatural about the register. She's singing in and that in itself reaches out and grabs us and are kind of neat sense of fascination with evil at the beginning of the. Basically, all you hear is the sort of tremolo in the orchestra, and it it's not very long, and I usually ask conductors if they wouldn't mind starting that as I'm finishing the dialogue. So in German. I say kind off. Kinds lot literally means no words, no word. And I really like it when the conductor will start that yet. While I'm saying that last word because then it just gives me one moment, that's almost rhythmic in my brain. To take that breath. And then start you just want to launch right in there. It's like hang gliding. You don't want to run a whole lot before you take off hang gliding. You just want to be able to gracefully kind of step off the cliff, right? When she cut strides onto the stage, the whole thing just goes up into because she's. Threatening. Steals scenes. Begin to express it. But she is the scene, and she stays that would. The first line of this aria. Is a really wonderful illustration. It's it's the the wrath of hell is burning in my bosom. So you can just imagine. She's just got this the flames of Heller bursting out of the seams of her corset. Nights are is different because it's a new way of expressing. A bad character, the usual way of expressing an aria like this would be a kind of Furioso are a rage. Aria and furious. Oh, enrage are is have a kind of tradition, and you hear it all over the place. Mozart wrote plenty of them and the Queen of nights are is not involved with that traditional. I'm the type of actress who really connects to my motions. I mean, I'm like pacing backstage, and I'm getting worked up, and I'm channeling that anger from times in my life that I have been actually full of rage. I use that in partnership with the adrenaline of just going on stage. And that's really what kicks my game into high gear. And I think it helps actually technically it helps me reach those crazy high notes because it's a difficult thing. Even on my best day. And most of the time I'm not having my best day, especially right now after seven weeks after C section. So she begins with a kind of conventional moves and tonality is, you know, it's minor. It's fears. Then it becomes something. Really quite otherwise. When she starts climbing into the stratosphere. That's when it gets very fresh, very interesting. Behind the Queen of the night. Besides the kind of archetypal fairytale character is the Empress Maria. Theresa somebody who tried to suppress the Mazen. She was considered a very serious enemy. She was the only women who ever ascended to the throne of the Austrian empire, and that was an extremely fraught event because there are many who thought that women should not rule, and so that's historical source for the figure, and I think we can't leave without saying that there's a lot of misogynistic writing in that libretto for the magic flute women are being caricatured as angry vengeful losing their reason not able to speak rationally the same way men. Can this also is obviously culturally biased of its time. Tacona put it in layman's, terms and take all the fairytale out. How frustrating even back in the day. Imagine this won't she's a Queen. And she has all this power. And then her husband dies and suddenly all of that powers. Just completely snatched away from her. It's really frustrating position to be and I can understand her anger and her rage. What this way that people who think fairytales fruit loose and unreal don't understand very to will. This is universal their way of dealing with. Life's sorrows and tragedies when I realized that it was a fairytale for adults. That's what changed my mind about it. I suddenly realized we're not in the realm of drama that supposed to make sense in different realm and Mozart was writing a magic oppor. That's what they were called. And he needed a new language to do that. So. He was finding new ways of expressing danger and tragedy and sorrow and suffering and joy and Raba which went right from the heart. One of the things that was aiming at was really to push the voice of character to do things beyond. What we imagine a human being capable of. He's clearly aiming it some effect where her voice gets very strongly aligned with the idea of magical instrument. So the sound of the Queen of the nights voice becomes flute. Like, for example, by making her voice jump a lot in that area by subtracting it from the realm of melody and how fast she has moved from note to note. And of course, the fact that while she's doing that she can't possibly be saying words, you can't have words. When voices asked to sing that way next time. You're having an argument with your significant other notice that at first you've got a lot to say. Explaining yourself. You're spending what they did wrong. Whether it be, you know, the fifteenth time that they have laundered your underwear and it shrank in the dryer or something like that. And you have a lot of words for them. And you're trying to explain your side of the argument, and how it needs to be fixed, and it's just not getting through to them. So you just start cursing. And I think that the second half aria when she's just like, I it's just like expletive after expletive with a lot of exclamation points. I always talk about how singing queen's a night is like throwing darts with your eyes closed. You have darting your hand. You know, exactly where the bulls eye is. You shut your eyes and toss it. And then Mozart he's going to be dead six weeks after the premiere of magic flute. He says I am going to put everything I know about musical composition into this opera. The kinds of music that Mozart wrote for this opera. They are so complicated. And many of them are completely out of place in opera to begin with. And you think that magic food in a way is just a compendium of all the kinds of music that Mozart could right? Not just from opera from everywhere. This opera is unique. It's nothing else. That's like this. I love singing this aria. It it gets a little old sometimes. And actually the thing that gets old is just the pressure. Every performance because it's so hard to sing. And you know, everybody says to me ho, Katie, but you make it sound so easy as a piece of cake for you. It's not it really is actually not it's hard. But that's why I love it. Actually, it wouldn't be interesting to me if it wasn't a challenge every single time as sing it. So I'm glad that. It's like the hardest thing ever to sing this offer that I thought was stupid unbearable and just by when I first heard it to me is no one of the summits of human creativity. Because when it has that kind of facination the process of going from how much I hated the beginning to how much I love it. Now. To the extent that I can sometimes can hardly think about it without choking up. And the end that I the first time I heard that was just absolutely idiotic. They didn't tears now. No, I don't know if any other work like that. I really don't. And that my friends is why we love this aria. You just heard soprano, Catherine Luek, musicologist Carolina, body and composer, Jon Suard, decoding do hula for Mozart's. The magic flute. Now earlier I promised you the inside scoop on how this aria ended up on that golden record that went up with the Voyager space probes. Name is Timothy fares. Right. Nonfiction books mostly about science and philosophy. And I produced the Voyager golden record. In the process of sending the record. We naturally asked a lot of folks to give us suggestions composers conductors musical scholars. We know what are you passionate about? And that help we got some good suggestions that way in one of them was the Queen of the night aria, obviously the title Queen of the night is appealing if you're sending spacecraft off into the eternal darkness between the stars. But it also just simply appealed to us. We found it exciting. I think there is an appropriateness to the wild open boundless sound of this are. That commends itself to our wider environment to the environment of the entire galaxy. Mozart is an interesting composer from a mathematical standpoint that is you can find mathematical relationships rather easily in Mozart's music, and we had that a bit in mind when we were putting the void to record together since we don't know that aliens intercepting, the record would have hearing like ours or would here in the same band with or that their sense of time would resemble hours, whether our music would sound like chipmunks or something to to them. So I was interested in putting together classical selections that had mathematical relationships that would reward a listener so to speak, even if that listener couldn't actually listen, but could only study the music as a kind of code. There is a question of my credentials as a record producer of only produced one record only two copies of it were made in both copies were hurled off the earth forever. Could be could be construed as a a decent career utter failure. Now, that's the story. I love the Mozart's out in space waiting for some hipster alien with turntable to find stuff. Well, that's it for this episode of code now. If you think we're podcast worthy of being launched into space. Please tell the world about it by heading over to apple podcasts rating and reviewing it that really helps us out. And who are we anyway, because you know, it's not just me work into this podcast. Our producer is Marin laws. Ian, Brennan Francis. Newnham is our editor and Abramowitz is our executive producer sound design and mixing that point and original music by Hans Brown. RT? Also includes Christopher ple and Justin Hicks special. Thanks to Katherine Luek. Caroline Butti in Jan swath for their insights, this show is a co production of w star in the Metropolitan Opera, Iran and gets and I'll see you next time Dunkin.