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Monday, May 15, 2017

The Magic Flute: O Isis und Osiris (039)


I'm presently in a production of the Magic Flute at Seattle Opera, which has two great bass arias in it. In this article, I'll talk about the first one, plus a bit more about the opera. You can see my first post about The Magic Flute as a Singspiel here.



Both are sung by the character Sarastro, a high priest of some sort. That name deserves a detour: Sarastro is named after the founder of Zoroastrianism, an ancient, quasi-monotheistic religion from the middle east, still practiced today. Most of that doesn't matter, though. All religious references in Magic Flute are only that - obscure references.

For Mozart's purposes, Zoroastrianism is old, mystical, and there's a connection to the sun in there. It's also something far away and not familiar to the Viennese audience that Magic Flute was written for. It's exotic and mysterious, and that served Mozart's purpose quite well.

Mozart also blended Masonic elements into the character of Sarastro, and the male-dominated cult that Sarastro leads. The same can be said of the then-very-hip-philosophy of Enlightenment. Both Freemasonry and Enlightenment were things Mozart was dabbling in at the time.

In Magic Flute, Mozart created a world of his own making, borrowing icons and philosophies from many cultures and mashing them up together. It's an opera melting pot.

Sarastro's first aria, O Isis und Osiris, is yet another religious reference: this time to Egyptian mythology. In the aria, Sarastro invokes the goddess Isis and her brother Osiris - which here are pronounced Ee-zees and Oh-zee-rees because it's an opera in German.

Sarastro asks for the gods' protection of the two lovers Tamino and Pamina. Those two are about to undergo a period of testing in order to be accepted into Sarastro's sect.

In contrast to the Queen of the Night's bombastic arias, Sarastro's arias are slow and, well, very church-y. It invokes the more stayed, reserved, reasoned, four part hymns of the reformed protestant churches.

In the text, Sarastro starts off with the goddess Isis, asking her to protect the two in their journey. In the second verse, he asks the god Osiris, god of the dead, to accept them in the afterlife if they should perish.

After each verse, the chorus echoes Sarastro's last line. It's very reverential, much more like a Lutheran church service than anything Egyptian.

The music is pretty straightforward and uncomplicated. It's tuneful, short, and easy to learn, especially since it does not go very high, which means that some young singers can attempt it. It does, however, go low. Very low. Like, low-F-low.

This makes it a prized aria for basses and bass-baritones. It's something just for them, something that baritones can't do. And with it's long legato line and short duration, it makes a decent audition aria.

I personally have been singing this aria since high school. So I'm happy to present it for you here on Singerreise!


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