Du also bist mein Bräutigam?… When hearing voices saves a life

I made it to the Bay Area! In a way, I have traveled back in time: I’m living at home (albeit just for about two weeks) and eating my parents’ food (delicious !). I drive around this town and cannot associate any of the sites or sights with the anxiety I experienced just a week ago as an independent “grown up”, working, living on my own, running errands, and trying to avoid traffic. The past two days have consisted of eating, shopping, and spending time with my family. Summer is now synonymous with fun, sunshine, and singing. I truly feel like a college student again.

I got down with my Pamina scene to finalize the memorization. BASOTI starts in seven days, and my fear is having one of my scenes cut if I show up unprepared. It’s been a few years since I sang this in college; the notes are still there but the German needed some lovin’. Some people complain that German is harsh or ugly, but I find it remarkably satisfying to sing. Lovely vowels with an equal emphasis placed on the importance of crisp consonants. I thanked the English translation printed in the score for providing the big picture but scoffed at its in-authenticity, given the poetic license taken to make things rhyme. As always, I like having a literal translation, word for word. It’s quite embarrassing and awkward if my character completely miss the dramatic or emotional point of the scene.

A not-too-freely-altered-for-rhyming-purposes version is readily available online, but I like to painstakingly cobble my own translation together. Word by painstaking word (my fantasy: I’ll miraculously and organically learn a language using this method). Thank goodness for the internet. But I must invest in a huge library of dictionaries once I’m done with all this moving.

My feelings on Die Zauberflöte are mixed; beautiful music but the plot is quite ridiculous and goes off on too many tangents. I find the character development flat and the pacing of the story a draaaaag. Perhaps there is just a little too much good music here? I think Mozart needed a cold-hearted editor to slash a big X through a couple measures and improve the flow. Pamina has some gorgeous music though, and I wouldn’t want any of it cut. Her almost-suicide scene is quite powerful if sung with the madness the three spirits reference several times (Wahnsinn tobt ihr im Gehirne). In my opinion, the biggest disservice a singer can do to Pamina is to sing her as a wimp. No one likes a quitter, but Pamina’s flirtation with death makes sense in light of the betrayal she experiences from both her prince, Tamino, and her mother, the Queen of the Night. I love this scene because Pamina’s vocal line jumps between short and long phrasing. Her text is straightforward, but her music alternates between emphatic statements and uncertain fragments. She isn’t thinking clearly, she is a mess.

I may have included the link before, but here is a little refresher if you need it. Pamina’s outfit takes some getting used to, but it’s a beautifully detailed production, Paris Opera in 2000.

Some back-story: Pamina is in love with Prince Tamino, who has taken a vow of silence to demonstrate his worthiness. Unfortunately, Tamino failed to mention the point of this exercise to Pamina, and she misinterprets his silence to mean his feelings for her have disappeared (this is when she sings the deceptively simple but heart-wrenchingly bleak “Ach, ich fühl’s” in Act 2). In addition to this drama in her love-life, Pamina is having some issues in her relationship with her mother. Mama is a smidgen manipulative and sees an opportunity to rid herself of a long-standing rival, Sarastro. She gives Pamina a dagger and two options: A) kill Sarastro, or B) be disowned, destroyed, and damned (alright, so the translation for the last bit is more along the lines of “cursed” but I couldn’t pass up the alliteration opportunity).

The scene. Pamina is really too nice to act as an assassin, so she comes up with option C) use the dagger to commit suicide instead. In her first line, she addresses the dagger and asks if it is to be her groom since Tamino has abandoned her (Du also bist mein Bräutigam?). The score notes that Pamina “rushes” in, and her vocal line is broken into two phrases for a breathless and frantic quality. Her second sentence carves a beautiful legato line and ends on a ringing upward swing; she exclaims that the dagger will complete her grief (Durch dich vollend’ ich meinen Gram). In these 4.5 measures, Mozart paints Pamina as unstable and alternating between crazed mutterings and manic proclamations.

Just as she is about to stab herself, the three adorable spirits take action and tear the dagger from her (Ha! Unglückliche, halt ein!). She scoffs (Was?) at the idea that Tamino, the one has turned away from her, still loves her. The score does not explicitly say whether Pamina ignores or is unaware of the spirits prior to this moment, but I like to imagine that her mental breakdown is so encompassing that she does not hear or see the spirits until they physical intervene.

This is the point where Pamina’s madness runs out of steam. After three beats, she asks why Tamino will not speak to her, a question that is also broken into two musical phrases as if she does not have the strength to finish the thought in one breath (Warum sphracher … nicht mit mir?). The three spirits say they are forbidden to answer this question (Dieses müssen wir verschweigen) but can take Pamina to see Tamino and his faithfulness (doch wir wollen ihn dir zeigen, und du wirst mit Staunen sehn, daß er dir sein Herz geweiht.) They talk her out of the dagger-ing and into finishing the scene with a quartet of love’s triumph over its enemies. Pamina is so convinced that she breaks the rhythmic unity of the quartet and leads the spirits in the final page of music (verloren ist der Feinde Müh, die Götter selbsten schützen sie.). It is a complete transformation, and Pamina’s confidence in herself and the universe is restored.

I’m ready to do this! The three spirits better be ready too – I will probably go after someone with Pamina’s dagger if this scene is cut from the BASOTI line-up.

With a head full of German,


6 responses to “Du also bist mein Bräutigam?… When hearing voices saves a life

  1. pinustorreyana

    I’m glad you’ve arrived safely in San Francisco. All the best for you in The Magic Flute. Keep Henley’s INVICTUS in mind. Bill Miller

    • Bill, I just watched Invictus tonight. “I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.” BASOTI starts next Monday – can’t wait! I’ll be sure to post about the experience.

  2. 3rd adorable spirit is SO ready! Great interpretation!!

  3. I feel the same way about translating and learning the languages. Can’t trust anything but word for word! I have never put it into words like that, but at the Ring cycle last week I was listening and trying to understand as much German as I could without the super-titles, thinking, “Someday I will just understand and not have to read those silly things”!

    • Ring Cycle takes stamina! It must be amazing to know the language (even partially). Let me know if you ever catch someone doing something nuts with their interpretation due to not word-for-word translating, haha!

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