A lone bowman slinks deftly onto the boards from a stage-right box. His body is crouched, his movements slow and feline. He pauses, taught muscles fighting the urge to flee. He waits.
His white coat has caught my eye in the half-light, tearing my thoughts and eyes away from the conductor’s bobbing hairdo. I can sense the rest of the audience noticing him, their attention flickering from the music to the man. An invisible door has opened in the safety curtain. Blue light and wisps of smoke ooze through. The audience waits with the bowman, almost gleeful in anticipation and the rustle of fancy fabric as we slide in our evening wear to the edge of our seats. Should he go through? The music builds suddenly, pulling my gaze toward the pit for a fleeting moment and when it flickers back to him… he is gone.
In an instant the curtain is raised and there, center stage, its massive jaws gaping, fangs bared, glistening tongue lolling, writhes a huge emerald snake. The Magic Flute has begun. A whole evening flows by, filled to the trilling brim with shining costumes, freakish hair, the Queen of the Night, Priests, flying contraptions, Masonic allegory, bizarre dancing animals, a bright white moon that fills the stage, a fat golden sun that blinds my dimmed eyes, love at first sight, devotion, danger, laughter and music. Obviously music… it’s the opera. What is really hysterical about it, though, is that it is a deeply, avowedly sexist opera and I say hysterical because I am here to confess something to my beloved reader today. I often find sexism funny. I can’t help it. I try to be offended, but I cannot for the life of me feel the appropriate feelings, or think what it is doubtless appropriate to think.
Die Zauberflöte is riddled with lines about how we women say a great deal but do very little. The leading men are enjoined, again and again and once more with feeling, to beware the frightful wiles of women. So many men have fallen to our crafty ways, led astray by our myriad attractions, we are to be wary of. We are sylphs, sphinxes, living breathing traps for honest, ingenuous man. I’m pretty sure I should have been annoyed or at least a little piqued. I can just about raise a mock-outraged gasp, nearly as theatrical as the Queen of Night herself. Mostly, however, I just laughed my wily head off and brushed imaginary lint from my shoulder: damn straight be afraid of women. Who runs the world? Girls. These boots are gonna walk all over you. R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Girls just wanna have fun… are you getting the gist? Because I can keep going…
A shrill giggle cuts through the power ballads and brings us back to sexism, or more specifically it’s focal point in the opera: Papagena. Papageno, the male comic foil of the piece, has lamented at length that he doesn’t have a girlfriend. He doesn’t want to go through the trials of the temple to attain wisdom, he doesn’t want to accompany Tamino to face danger and rescue Pamina (standard fainting damsel.) Nope, Papageno would much rather have a glass of wine and a pretty girl to come and sit on his lap. That seems fair enough to me, but the priests of the temple disagree and change tack. Rather than wisdom, they tempt Papageno into facing his fears with the promise of a girlfriend he can call his own, a woman just like him. Cue Papagena.
The set and costume design for the show are striking. The temple has these soaring black walls and the priests are often clad in pale colours, grey and cream and white. Together, the pale priests against their dark backdrop, these evoke intense learning. They are white chalk anatomical drawings on slate tablets. They are living knowledge, the embodiment of studious endeavor and chronicled genius. Papagena, however, is more like neon pink nail polish spilled on the pages of a dusty old book. She comes skittering and chattering from the wings to throw herself astride Papageno… and she’s in a very, very short skirt. She is boobs and pink stilettos. And she stands for the attractions of women. Yet again I feel the tug of responsibility, a modern woman’s responsibility to bridle at the sexual objectification of women. But I can’t do it. I can’t summon an ounce of disapproval for the bubbly concoction of curls and lipgloss. I understand that she’s essentially a walking womb, there only to bring a little brood of Papageni into the world. But I don’t care. I love her, and with a very intense sisterly affection.
Nor do I get annoyed when the brotherhood of man completely trounces the Queen of the Night and her court of ladies. Triumph of male Sense over female Emotion, the total inability of women to hold it together for longer than it takes to shed a single glistening tear. Etc. Yawn. Come on Fellas, hit us with something new! Work that grey matter boys: if the overly emotional shtick was around in Mozart’s time then why in the name of all that is genuinely funny am I still hearing it today? But angry? Nope, not even a quiver.
I’ve read so many articles lately by angry girls, sniping at other members of the sisterhood, declaring we not waste ourselves, piling on the pressure to turn away from motherhood, stay in the workplace, not demean ourselves by dressing up for men. This last one nearly got me when I saw a girl prepping for a date in the street, she was switching from comfy looking flats into spiky heels. Watching her, my brain threw out a little stink bomb thought. It went as follows: “Sweety, if he’s looking at your feet, you’re doing something wrong.” Ouch! What a bitch the back of my mind is?! Whoever you were, girl in the burgundy skirt, I take it back. My own fear of achy feet is not your problem. Dress up for your bloke if it makes you feel good. I reminded myself that lengthy hypnotherapy treatments couldn’t get a guy to remember what shoes we wore, and that that isn’t the point anyway. We strap our blister-beleaguered toes into black leather stacked-heel shoes because they make us feel like Beyonce. If anything, we’re the ones using men… as an excuse to buy shoes.
So we may well be bumping like helium balloons against the glass ceiling, pulling a Bridget Jones on the greasy pole or having our Louboutin’s ruined by the sticky floor but check this out: Papageno spends 2 hours and 40 minutes, not including interval, moaning about not having one of us to himself… only to be terrified by the flesh and blood woman he finally gets his paws on. Call me childish, but that not only makes me snicker, it also makes me just a tiny bit proud of us girls. Emotional? Sure. Fragile? No doubt. F*cking awesome hurricanes of passionate, sexy energy, in great shoes, capable of melting a man’s brain at 100 paces. Absolutely!
I’m off to listen to Shania Twain.
See you next time.
P.s. sorry about the f-word at the end. It’s my rampant female emotions. 🙂