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Opera Daily 🎶 — Tamino's Aria from Mozart's The Magic Flute
“To me, singing is like talking. If it ain’t natural, it ain’t right.” — B.B. King
Today’s performance has a magical way of pulling at our heartstrings in the best possible way.
While the chills you feel when you hear a particularly moving piece of music may be the result of dopamine, it’s difficult to describe what makes singing remarkable.
As Clayne W. Robison, wrote in Beautiful Singing; Mind Warp Moments:
Singing speaks most eloquently for itself in real time and doesn’t fall into words on paper very easily. It is either beautiful or it isn’t. If it’s beautiful, words aren’t adequate. If it isn’t, words about it have to be either false or cruel!”
Robison nailed one thing, that’s for sure: that when it comes to beautiful singing— words fail us.
The name Fritz Wunderlich is synonymous with the role of Tamino in Mozart’s The Magic Flute. His performances as Tamino in the early 1960s set the standard for that role, and as my friend, tenor Jeffrey Picón, Assistant Professor of Voice at Oklahoma City University, says, “I send all my tenors to that video when they begin that aria”.
The Magic Flute (Die Zauberflöte) is a fairy tale with themes of love, good versus evil, and finding your way in the world. A young prince named Tamino is being chased by a serpent through a valley. After he falls unconscious, three ladies emerge from a temple and kill the snake. Tamino awakens and assumes the snake was killed by a bird catcher named Papageno. When Papageno accepts the credit, the three ladies reappear and place a padlock on his lips. They then show Tamino a picture of Pamina, the beautiful daughter of their mistress, the Queen of the Night. He immediately falls in love with her. They then tell him she has been kidnapped by the evil magician Sarastro. The Queen appears and asks Tamino to rescue Pamina, which he agrees to do. The ladies free Papageno and give him a magic set of chimes. They also give Tamino a magic flute and send the two off on their mission.
This aria takes place in Act 1 of the opera. Prince Tamino has just been presented by the Three Ladies with an image of the princess Pamina and falls instantly in love with her.
🎧 Listening Example (4 minute listen): Tenor Fritz Wunderlich singing Tamino’s aria “Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön” from Mozart's The Magic Flute, with piano accompaniment. Recorded in Salzburg, 1965 (one year before his tragic death at 35).
“Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön”
This image is enchantingly beautiful,
such as no eye has ever yet seen.
I feel the way this divine image
fills my heart with new emotion.
Though I cannot name what this is,
yet I feel it burning here like fire.
Might this sensation be love?
Yes, yes! It can only be love!
Oh, if only I could find her!
Oh, if she but stood before me now!
I should ... should ... warmly and virtuously ...
What should I do? ...
Rapturously I should press her to this ardent breast,
and then she would be mine for ever.
Mozart is medicine for the voice. If your vocal technique is weak, Mozart reminds you while singing. Mozart may appear “easy” to sing, but don’t let that fool you—it’s deceptively hard. And this aria, with its super-exposed entrance, is no exception.
The lyrical arias of Tamino are more romantic in style (as befitting a prince) than those of the other characters and hint at what’s to come in the Italian bel canto era.
Fritz Wunderlich’s legacy as one of the greatest tenors of the twentieth century is confirmed through the many audio recordings he made, including The Magic Flute with Karl Böhm and the Berliner Philharmoniker, Evelyn Lear, James King, and Martti Talvela from 1964.
The Magic Flute was the last opera Mozart composed. It premiered on September 30th, 1791, roughly three months before he died (at 35). Mozart conducted the orchestra, while the librettist, Emanuel Schikaneder, sang the role of Papageno.
Mozart wrote a few of the roles in The Magic Flute for close friends: Tamino for Benedikt Schack, the Queen of the Night for his sister-in-law Josepha Hofer and Papageno for the librettist, Schikaneder.
The Magic Flute is full of oppositions (e.g., day against night, man against woman). At a musical level, this is represented by extremes of pitch – the role of Sarastro is incredibly low, while the Queen of the Night’s famous aria reaches an F above high C .
Thank you for reading (and listening),
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