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Never Ending ASECS: Painting the Moor Green: Confronting Race and Gender in Mozart’s “The Magic Flute”.

April 14, 2021

This was a panel I was very keen to catch up on. It wanted to learn from rather than contribute to and so I was happy enough just to catch this as a recorded session.

Julie Taymor's Magic Flute is still mesmerizing at The Met | Bachtrack
  1. Lily KASS, University of Pennsylvania, “‘When will the veil be lifted?’: How Translations Obscure Racism in The Magic Flute
  2. Jessica WALDOFF, College of the Holy Cross, “Rethinking Gender and Race in Die Zauberflöte
  3. Micaela BARANELLO, University of Arkansas, “Julie Taymor’s Intercultural Mozart”
  4. Respondent: Imani MOSLEY, University of Florida.

I wonder how many who have enjoyed the various arias from Die Zauberflöte (perhaps non sequentially) have had to have their jaws winched from the floor the first time they see the character of Monostatos appears on the stage.

This panel considered how the racism and sexism of the Die Zauberflöte is variously obfuscated (to a greater or lesser extent) by subtitling, by cutting, and by revisions that include not only the libretto but also innovations of casting, costume, and make up. If the opera is suddenly lifted out of its accustomed context and placed in an idealised (and smudged) version of Asia, does this achieve anything other than reinforce Edward Said’s judgement that the East is constantly being invoked and commodified to satisfy Western insecurities and appetites? How do productions designed for Anglophone audiences (whatever language the opera is sung in) differ from productions in continental Europe?

Is it possible to detach Mozart from Schikaneder? Does music transcend words? I’m not sure that they do. Words are sounds. Words are part of an overall auditory experience. Besides which, the misogyny and racism in this opera is not merely a matter of some off-colour remarks. The whose story of the opera is about a notion of joyous universalising fraternity that makes its claims by deliberately excluding and proscribing versions of blackness and femininity. Can a transcendent, unproblematic Flute only be heard if you don’t know the story and you can’t understand German?

What does it mean to be “positively disturbed”? Can the right level and character of disturbance be reliably provoked among a large audience? If the essential racist and sexist dynamics of Mozart and Schikaneder’s work are disowned, then is some fundamental evasion taking place? If, on the other hand, the opera is performed traditionally, does this platform and therefore naturalise – some very ugly phobic representations?

It is suggested that perhaps Monostatos should not actually be alone on stage for his solos. Perhaps he should stand at the head of a community – a community that is visibly of his own ethnicity. Perhaps this might profitably illustrate the larger politics of his prejudicial status. Perhaps the Queen of the Night retain her status as a villain – but in such an extravagant and seductive way that the Masonic fratriarchy is given a run for its money?

In the final analysis, this becomes a panel about something that is very lovely and very ugly and whether loveliness and ugliness can cohere or rather co-exist within the same experiential moment. Perhaps we should not look to art for “transcendence” at all – or expect something like an opera to offer any kind of escape from the crimes of the world that produced it (and reproduces it).

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One Comment
  1. Reblogged this on conradbrunstrom and commented:

    Reblogging this recent discussion of how to produce “The Magic Flute” on the 230th anniversary of its debut

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