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2003.02.01 An interview during the run of “Die Zauberflöte” at the ROH.

Broadcast on 10 February 2003, BBC 3, in connection with

the live broadcast of “Die Zauberflöte” at the ROH.


Interviewer Stephanie Hughes

Transcribed by Ursula Turecek

…We have a great cast here tonight, including the English baritone Simon Keenlyside. He is singing the role of Papageno who perhaps suffers more than the rest of the characters in this opera in his pursuit of the perfect dream but:

SK: Comes right in the end, of course, it comes right in the end, it’s Mozart. Mozart never has bothers. Beethoven with his feet in the clay, desperately trying to touch the face of God, Mozart doesn’t even consider the question, his feet are very rarely on the ground.

One of the pivotal roles is that of the Queen of the Night’s bird-catcher, Papageno, a dime’s worth guy full of fun, never able to keep his mouth shut – he has it padlocked at one point – desperate to meet the cosy little woman of his dreams. He is a character we can perhaps more readily identify with. The guy to whom success never comes easily:

SK: Success is all very well, mm and the heroes have that. But the comedic parts, that is failure, that’s interesting, and what comes out of that failure of course is success but not what you did envisage in the first place and that’s what I think very very much what Papageno is in keeping with all those type of characters. And added to which, you’ve got a classic Shakespearean type fool, you got this great arc-lamps of truth, sometimes in only one sentence, he does not even know he said them of course, that’s the wonderful thing about it. And I think, this, err, particular production, I find it helped me in the ordinariness and.. and the failure of a man who has come to accept his situation and is sanguine about it and content; in the absence of something else. Although he’s always banging on throughout the evening that he wished he had a woman. But he’s got his little… ways to be comfortable through life. And I think for dramatic reasons I like to have just something that’s a little … odd. When Tamino says to him… basically says “you are very odd”  – and of course Papageno says “what are you talking about, odd? Whay are you looking at me in a stupid way? I’m perfectly normal, you’re the one that’s odd, I mean, coming into my world looking like that.”


So I… I like to have a couple of quirky things which are just like in real life. Somebody’s been on their own a bit too long. So when in the beginning Tamino comes in and disturbs – he puts ripples in my world and then… then tells me to come with him – well, that’s a disturbing thing. And I fail all the way through: I talked when hetold me to shut up, I didn’t want to come with him, complained, didn’t want to be enlightened – told him quite clearly I didn’t want to, I didn’t want to fight – so why did I go with him ? Well, because there’s a hope that my little habitual ways…. not really bringing me what I want…. which is provide birds for the three ladies and they give me figs and stuff in return. There’s maybe a chance I couldget a girl, find a girl if I follow him. It’s a risk, isn’t it? He took a risk. It’s a big deal I think, for him.

Well, I warned you, it’s a… an opera full of action and paradox and all the way through, Simon Keenlyside who plays the role of Papageno feels that Mozart is asking questions of the characters and of us, the audience – the big questions of what life is and what it should be like, of what’s important and what can and can’t be changed. In fact, it’s Papageno who has one of the really significant moments in the opera:

SK: There is a point, just when he’s been told “You’re useless, you failed, you’re not going to be enlightened ever. Anything else you want?” “Give me a glass of wine”, says Papageno – mm, there it is, yippee, and he drinks it and he says “You know, I… I… I feel funny. I feel so fantastic, I could fly to the sun – if I had wings.” And then you get the laugh but then – bang! There’s a mallet; pause and, he says “I… I wish… I… I want… what is it that I want” Now why does Mozart choose to say that there? All the way through the evening we know what the man wants, he wants a woman! So why at that point does he say “I don’t know what I want”? For me, it’s Mozart, he’s talking to the audience to say “What is it that you want? What do you want out of life?” And straight after that moment Mozart gives to the instrument – the least martial of any instrument, Glockenspiel – give alittle 10 note ditty [intones the beginning of “Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen”]. It occured to me and to me it makes sense, there’s another 10 little ditty note that was published four months later [intones the beginning of the Marseillaise]… Why did a man who could write anything under the sun, why did he choose to write something that is almost identical if it wasn’t to say “What is it that you want ?” and then to say – not in some stupid P.C.way – “Freedom, freedom ! Freedom to be what you want.” Freedom ! Freedom, freedom, freedom. Not to follow social norms, whatever it is. And he says it all way through that ditty [begins to intone Marseillaise, then changes to “Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen”]. And that gives me a shiver every time.

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