My night at the opera

I went to the opera with my daughter the other day. The Magic Flute. Wolfie Mozart is always nice to listen to (I have his 40’th as my sound-track right now.) But, man, the view on women… I was talking to the mom of my youngest son’s friend who was also there, and it basically was the first thing out of our mouths. This was both our daughters first Opera Experience. Hmmmmm.

I remember watching the Bergman version when it first came out, because that is what Sweden did that evening. I don’t think I reflected as much on the view on women, but I did reflect on the kind of odd switcheroo of allegiances. You are set up being in the Queen of the Night’s corner. And, it is kind of cool. Three ladies who rescues the lad from the terrible worm. (My kind of fantasy. Ptooi on Damsels in distress dreams). The Queen of the Night tells her sad story of her daughter being abducted. You know right off who to root for.

Except, well, you find out, you’re wrong! (I hate that, tell me clearly who the home team is). It is Sarastro that is. Now, I generally don’t like when people use Mansplaining as a way of short-circuiting someone (well, some man’s) attempt to explain something that may very well be sexist, or at least not quite how one would like things to be. Usually I much rather listen to peoples versions of things, because it is interesting, and because we all have our biases. But, Sarastro’s explaining of why he is good and QON evil is Mansplaining. I mean, look at these excerpts! Here is the priest explaining to Tamino why he’s wrong about Sarastro, who, for all I can understand, has kidnapped Pamina, for god knows what reason.

(All lyrics taken from

A woman then has beguiled you,
A woman does little, chatters much,
young man, believe this tongue-game?
Oh, if only Sarastro could to you
Impart the purpose of his action.

Then, the priest goes on being coy, saying he can’t explain WHY Sarastro is good and QoN is Evil, no no, he has sworn! (I’m smelling initiation rite. Commitment and Consistency. Once Tamino has been through all that crap he HAS to believe Sarastro is good).

Or here, Sarastro to Pamina, who had run away because Monostatos was trying to rape her.

A child’s duty calls me
For my mother….

Stands in my power;
You and your happiness would be killed
if I left you in her hands.

Mother’s name sounds sweet to me
It is she! It is she!

And a proud woman.
A man must lead your hearts,
For without him every woman is misguided
To step out of her sphere.

Don’t you want to just strangle the supercilious Mansplainer? He kidnaps Pamina, places her to be watched by his slaves (Hello, he has slaves! Isn’t that the marker of the evil side?) one of whom plans a little rape, only to be thwarted by Papageno? What kind of guy is this?

And, then, the “testing” they have to go through basically means “show us that you have learned to ignore women, because, well, women, duh”

Beware women’s artfulness;
This is the first duty of the alliance!
Many a wise man let himself be beguiled,
He was wrong, and knew not the error;
Abandoned he sat, at the end,
His trust repaid with scorn!
In vain he wrung his Hands,
Death and dispair were his reward,
Death and dispair were his reward.

Silly, evil women. Couldn’t possibly have a valid different point of view, now could they?. Ever the psychologist, I started thinking about how nice and convenient it is to have clear good and evil to believe in, and then you don’t have to think so much about how those evil people may think and feel. So much more complicated these days. But, now, think about it from QoN’s perspective.

Tamino is buying right into it, the easily led lad. Could it be homosociality? And, Pamina Beware!

Tamino, listen, you are lost!
Keep in mind the queen!
They’re whispering lots in every ear,
the false intentions of the priests.

wise man analyses and pays no attention
To what the local rabble says.

They say, whoever swears to her alliance,
Will go to hell with skin and hair.

That would be the devil, would be the devil
Would be the devil, be the devil, infernal !
Tell me, Tamino! Is that true?

Gossip, from women repeated,
By hypocrites, however, thought out.

Still, the queen says it, too.

She is a woman, has a woman’s mentality
May my word be enough for you:
Think of your duty and act cleverly!

Why are you so stubborn with us?
Also Papageno is quiet, so speak!

I would like to….
You see, that I am not supposed to!
That I can’t leave off the chattering.

Still! Still! Still! Still!
That you can’t stop that chattering
Can’t the chattering stop
Is truly a disgrace for you.

We have to leave them with disgrace
No one will chatter certainly.

Of a strong mind is a man
He thinks about what he can talk about.

Then we have the whole Monostatos thing. This is just… for 21st century sensibilities… Slave. Black. Aaaack! And, the papers did a bit about this in the reviews. They’ve created kind of a squat, short, pot-bellied thing, which makes me think of this kind of Buddha. Not so much black actually. But, well, not handsome and strapping, and kind of a joke. But, even if he doesn’t look black, the text leaves no doubt about what is intended.


All feel the joy of love,
Bill and coo, flirt, snuggle, and kiss,
And I am supposed to avoid love,
Because a black is ugly,
I, then, been given no heart?
I am also fond of girls,
Always to live without a woman
Would truly be the blaze of hell,

Aaack. I can be un-PC, but this…! The Sarastro Posse – clearly not the Good Guys.

OK, so the Queen of the Night does have a distinct Bad Parent moment when she asks Pamina to kill Sarastro. But, that is one killer aria that accompanies it. Really. You want to be on the side of someone that sings like That!

Then, Sarastro has his one redeeming moment in this aria, about not exacting revenge on QoN

Within these hallowed halls
One knows not revenge.
should a person have fallen,
Love will guide him to duty.
Then wanders he on the hand of a friend
Cheerful and happy into a better land.

Within these hallowed walls,
Where human loves the human,
No traitor can lurk,
Because one forgives the enemy.
Whomever these lessons do not please,
Deserves not to be a human being.

Perhaps he is redeemable.

I enjoy Opera, I really do. I used to go to the opera in LA when I lived there, and had a student discount, with my best buddy who had a BA in music from USC who also knew the house conductor, and consequently treated the opera as if it was her home. (She’d go, come, Åse – let’s move to the seats up here, near the front instead). I started scanning my memory about the plots, and the view of women, and they are all as reactionary. Cosi fan Tutte – women as fickle lovers. Ok so Susanna in Figaro has some sense. Carmen – my by far favorite – the woman with the large sexual appetite gets slain by the ex when she moves on to the next hot dude. Madama Butterfly. Gah. I love the music, and the intense emotions, but…

We need to redo them. Like some of the kids in my daughters theater group. They did a snow white version, where they all took on the persona of the mythical 14-year-old (it is a term in Sweden. Fjortis. That really awkward age in the beginning of puberty where you are trying on becoming grown, but it is so damned serious you can’t laugh about it, and you really are reverting to two again, and will definitely do exactly opposite of what anybody tells you to do, and really, I think about it with some tenderness as my daughter is only 2 years away, and it is not easy, but even she laughs about the stereotype).

In this version, Snow-white is a bit of a drama-queen demanding attention from the mice. She’s very exacting and dramatically sighing about her clothes, and the step-sisters really don’t seem that bad. All are chewing gum, and checking out their nail polish. She drags herself to the ball (where the prince and one of the stepsisters have started flirting). And she is Not Having Any Fun. All this is orchestrated by an increasingly exasperated director that is trying to keep her actors following the traditional script.

Back at Snow White and the step-sisters home, the prince comes with the shoe. Step-sister and prince are all happy to see each other, but director is insisting it should go the traditional way with Snow-white and the Prince marrying. But, they are all rebelling. Snow White doesn’t want the prince. No. Prince can marry the step-sister (they are both happy now). All she was is to design her own fashion label! And, when the fairy god-mother grants that, they all lived happily ever-after (except for the exasperated director).

Now, could we update The Magic Flute? I liked Peter Sellar’s re-make of Cosi fan Tutte (as I remember, it is a god awful long time since I saw it.)

I think what really is going on is a domestic dispute between QoD and Sarastro. Once upon a time they were lovers, it ended. Perhaps QoD just got sick of his reactionary attitudes towards women, and didn’t want Pamina growing up around that. Or Sarastro just felt castrated by a powerful woman, and rather than, you know, grow, he left. But, QoD hung on to Pamina, denying Sarastro visitation. Tsk tsk tsk. As my daughter would say Not Nice!

Sarastro went Out West and started a Cult. (Not sure which out West, but I figure, that is where you go to start a cult. Supposedly things are kinda Egyptian/masonic in the original, what with the Isis and Osiris, but, well, I imagine LA, and in LA you can do anything. If not Memphis, TN. Elvis is kinda cult). And, at some point, Sarastro and his Posse decided that it would be a neat idea to Kidnap Pamina, because it is not really kindapping if it’s your kid, right.

That’s the back-story. Now the Opera can start, kick-as women, Mansplaining men, and handsome easily led lads.

But…. We have to do something about the whole Monostatos deal also. That old version just won’t do! No slaves, no rapes, no unattractive black men. Clearly, the guys are part of Sarastro’s Posse, in on kidnapping Pamina who they think rightfully should be with Dad. This is what I think happened. Monostatos really is a handsome dude, catches Pamina’s eye, and they decide to run off, because, clearly a reactionary guy like Sarastro may not like the alliance. Monostatos may be in his posse, but, low status. The girl needs a prince! Would be good for the cult. The whole thing Pamina feeds Sarastro – oh, she’s scared, and daren’t own up to her desires. Learn from mom. Saying the guy you like, well, did, you know… so Dad won’t be mad at you? Not Nice.

See they are complex characters.

Opera continues. Easily Led Lads starts through the trials, having now bought into Sarastros Story. They are young. They want to know what is good or evil, and find the easy answers. Ah well. But, had they listened to the 3 ladies, maybe we wouldn’t have had to witness two near suicides. Sarastro, you need to figure out a better way.

In the end, Papageno gets his Papagena. QoN and Sarastro talk it out, not reconcile, talk it out. Maybe QoN can learn some anger management. Sarastro just has to continue working on his inner softie. And, as for Pamina and the boys. Well, I think I got it from Sarah Blaffer-Hrdy that in places that practice informal poly-andry (because you need the sperm from more than one guy to build a baby!), the optimal number of fathers is two. So, let Pamina have both.

Hail to you who are consecrated!
Hail to you who are consecrated!
You pushed through night. Thanks! Thanks!
Thanks be to you, Osiris! Thanks!
Thanks be brought to you, Isis!
May power be victorious
And crown as a reward
Beauty and wisdom
With an eternal crown.
Strength was victorious
Strength was victorious
And crowned as a reward
And crowned as a reward
Beauty and wisdom
With an eternal crown. etc.

About asehelene

... because if I'm in a room with a second person, I want to be reasonably sure I'm the crazier one.
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