Is Die Zauberflöte opera suitable for five year old?
November 22, 2009 7:46 PM   Subscribe

Is Mozart's - Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) opera with Diana Damrau suitable for a five year old?

My five year old daughter loves opera music and opera singing so much. She saw Diana Damrau on youtube and is mesmerized by both her acting and her singing. Even though it is in German.......she does not care. She will sit and watch over and over again that song of...............the Queen of the night aria. Anyway, I thought I might give her the DVD for Christmas, but I am unfamiliar with the opera itself as well as the DVD. I don't know if there is sexual content or violence that my five year old should not see. She did see the knife Diana had during the aria but nothing was done with it in that scene.

Can anyone help me?

And yes, my daughter loves to sing, night and I'm thinking that singing is something that is just "in" her. I certainly don't push it on her. The only way she even knew about opera was because she happened upon it on the public radio station.

posted by lynnie-the-pooh to Media & Arts (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Your five year old will witness more sex and violence by just turning on the tv to any random station, which I'm sure she has done, than she will witness in the Magic Flute . By all means give he the dvd. Do not be disappointed if she does not sit and watch the whole thing straight through, i sure wouldn't. Also, I would suggest that you don't let it run as "background music" unless she asks for it. Turn it on for a short period, until she loses interest, and then turn it off.
posted by charlesminus at 7:58 PM on November 22, 2009

It's totally fine, but if you are nervous perhaps you can just get the CD and she can just listen. That way she can listen in the car, too.
posted by kathrineg at 8:04 PM on November 22, 2009

The plot summary on the wikipedia page indicates there's a 'demanded love'/attempted rape scene, but I have no idea how understandable or scary/intense this scene would be for a five year old (I've never seen a production of the opera, sadly.)

As an alternative,what about the 'Classical Kids' CD for The Magic Flute? (available on amazon) Actually all of the Classical Kids CDs would be great for a child who's drawn to opera or classical music -they're in the format of 'radio play' adventures with kids who (sometimes magically) come into contact with composers and learn about their music. I grew up with these and listened to them constantly from ages about 5 to 9.

The Magic Flute one is a little different from the others because it inserts the main character (a girl) into the opera itself - she travels through the opera with the characters, helping them complete their quests. The music is translated into English, which might be especially fun for your daughter to be able to follow the story.
posted by heyforfour at 8:11 PM on November 22, 2009

Did you see this very recent thread?
posted by Madamina at 8:15 PM on November 22, 2009

Absolutely! She will love it. Sure, some of the content is adult, but I doubt the subtle adult content that there is will register with her - and yeah as aforementioned the covers of the magazines she's sees in the check-out aisle of the grocery store are about 97% more harmful than even the most intense Mozart opera.
posted by Lutoslawski at 9:10 PM on November 22, 2009

I'm pretty sure it's not that kind of magic flute. You'll be ok.
posted by HabeasCorpus at 9:13 PM on November 22, 2009 [8 favorites]

Operas can't generally include anything that would be unsuitable for kids. Keep in mind that opera isn't like theater; there are costumes and sets, but there's not really room for sudden movements or violent actions, since the people who are acting actually have to be singing meanwhile loud enough to fill a very large room. That's not easy. I haven't seen the Diana Damrau production you're talking about, but I think it's safe to say that there won't be any nudity or excessive violence. People in operas don't have sex or get naked or stab each other for the very simple reason that it's quite difficult to do any of those things whilst expending most of your energy singing.

What's more, I've seen one taped production of Die Zauberflöte and studied the libretto a bit in college and can tell you that the scene is not a "rape scene" in the graphic sense to which we are accustomed today. Yes, real rape is implied, but all that is shown is a woman being dragged off by a man - and the man is scared off before he manages to do anything, so there is nothing explicit, really, to portray even if they'd wanted to. This is pretty much the limit of operatic violence - one person being dragged across the stage by another, or someone appearing to be stabbed and then falling down dead after a long final aria.

I can say, by the way, that Die Zauberflöte is just about the most awesome introduction you could give a five-year-old to opera music; it's imaginative, whimsical, and almost fairy-tale-esque, and the plot (young lovers on a quest) is innocent, child-like, and inspirational. The only concern I can imagine having for a child watching it is that it's steeped in Masonic imagery - Mozart was a proud member of the order - but that's not really essential to enjoyment of the opera.

Finally, it's great that she's latched on to this singer she really likes, and it's probably wonderful to extend that by getting her the DVD of Diane Damrau. But I also can't let this pass without recommending warmly Ingmar Bergman's fantastic 1975 film of The Magic Flute, which is a kind of film of the opera onstage which is lots of fun because it's just as much about the actors playing the characters as it's about the characters themselves. It's intended to be a recreation of the original production in 1791, so the onstage set is wonderfully old-fashioned; but Bergman follows the actors around backstage, for example, and the camera allows him to highlight things one might miss with a traditionally staged opera. It's worth renting and watching, at least (even though it's translated into Swedish) because it presents all the songs in a neat setting.
posted by koeselitz at 9:19 PM on November 22, 2009

Lutoslawski: “Absolutely! She will love it. Sure, some of the content is adult, but I doubt the subtle adult content that there is will register with her - and yeah as aforementioned the covers of the magazines she's sees in the check-out aisle of the grocery store are about 97% more harmful than even the most intense Mozart opera.”

(Dead correct. And - to clarify - this 'adult content' generally consists in a man grabbing a woman by the wrist and attempting to lead her offstage, or singing "You will grant your love to me - I demand it!" in German at her. Almost certainly no actual nakedness or explicit violence - nothing likely to be scandalous to a five-year-old.)
posted by koeselitz at 9:24 PM on November 22, 2009

When I was about your daughter's age my family got its first VCR and with it, a copy of Bergman's 1975 version. It caught my imagination like almost nothing else ever has and I can't recommend it highly enough. (I'm not familiar with Dian Damrau though because overall I'm still sort of a culturally illiterate bumpkin even if my folks were introducing me to Mozart at a young age.)

The Bergman film is gorgeous and wonderful in all the ways koeselitz mentions but there are some images that, depending on your kid and your own personal standards, might be a little intense--Tamino and Pamina walking through the chambers of trials, for example, includes people writhing around in flesh-colored bodysuits; that may or may not be an overly-weird scene for a five-year-old. But check it out yourself and see what you think.

Getting the Damrau version on CD might be the best way to start. But The Magic Flute is just about the best damn thing on the planet and I'm overjoyed at the thought that there's a five-year-old out there, right now, who's seeking it out and enjoying it. Have fun exploring opera with your kiddo!
posted by Neofelis at 9:34 PM on November 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

I came here to suggest the Bergman version also. The singing isn't as good as some other versions, but the production is very, very cute (check out the animals in the forest scene where Tamino plays his flute! There's an WALRUS. A fucking WALRUS. In the middle of the forest!). Also, the Papageno/Papagena aria (Pa... pa pa) is really well done in the Bergman production. Totally great for a five year old.

I agree on the weirdness of the flesh bodysuits.
posted by rossination at 10:12 PM on November 22, 2009

My parents took me to see The Magic Flute when I was eight or so. I had no idea what was going on. Even if the lyrics to every song were the most vile of German obscenities, I wouldn't have noticed. But it was fun!
posted by telegraph at 5:21 AM on November 23, 2009

There was a similar question last week about opera for kids (linked above), and the number one recommendation was for The Magic Flute - totally fine, IMO.

(I work with children and would totally watch The Magic Flute with five year olds.)
posted by grapefruitmoon at 5:24 AM on November 23, 2009

Aside from the nervous ticks and the dead children I've collected in my crawlspace, I think turned out just fine from my exposure to the Magic Flute as a young child. I didn't understand the naughty bits early on Then as I got older I didn't understand them, but knew they were naughty for some reason piquing my interest of course. Now I love it all.
posted by Pollomacho at 6:33 AM on November 23, 2009

About two years ago I had an opportunity to see the Salzburg Marionette theater's production of Die Zauberflöte. I wouldn't have thought that I'd be a big fan of puppets, let alone puppets performing opera, but this was truly magical. It was an evening performance and the audience was mostly adults, but there were some children there and they were absolutely entranced. Both the marionette's and their costumes were exquisite. I would see them again in a heartbeat and would definitely check out the link to the wikipedia article above as the theater has a long and interesting history.

However the DVD of the Salzburg Marionette Theater productions are difficult to find and only seem to be available in region 2 DVDs so you'd need to make sure that you had a region free DVD player, unless you are already in region 2. I did find a DVD of their production of Die Zauberflöte at a place called Berkshire Record outlet for $6.99. I think by PAL DVD, they mean region 2. To my knowledge PAL only refers to videos, so if you order from them you may want to clarify that it is actually a DVD and not a VHS tape. You can also order DVDs directly from the Salzburg Marionette Theater's website (which you should check out for the photographs). It doesn't appear that they are touring in the U.S. anytime soon, but if you ever have the opportunity to see them, I would definitely do so.
posted by kaybdc at 8:09 AM on November 23, 2009

People in operas don't have sex or get naked or stab each other for the very simple reason that it's quite difficult to do any of those things whilst expending most of your energy singing.

This. And even with subtitles, the implied thwarted attempted rape is going to go way over the head of a five-year-old -- the portrayal won't be overtly sexual enough for it to be distinguishable as such.
posted by desuetude at 8:53 AM on November 23, 2009

People in operas don't have sex or get naked or stab each other for the very simple reason that it's quite difficult to do any of those things whilst expending most of your energy singing.

Two of the last three operas I've seen featured nudity (Das Rheingold and Salome). The third featured attempted rape, several on-stage murders, a suicide, a few simulated sex acts, and many references to adult topics (Lulu). Tragic operas are famously full of death and violence and suicide, often having long detailed arias about these and other topics that are inappropriate for children. Many operas are child safe, but it has nothing to do with technical limitations preventing adult actions.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 9:41 AM on November 23, 2009

People in operas don't have sex or get naked or stab each other for the very simple reason that it's quite difficult to do any of those things whilst expending most of your energy singing.

Sadly, this is absolutely not true. I take it you're thinking of a specific DVD with Damrau. I'm not familiar with that particular DVD, but it is important to bear in mind that even the most innocuous opera can be (and will be, usually in Germany) given a production that includes all sorts of things you don't want your 5-year-old to see. However, if this is the DVD you're thinking of -- Amazon link -- then it seems fairly innocuous. I would carefully read all the reviews, though, before purchasing.
posted by Dolukhanova at 1:44 PM on November 23, 2009

Flute will be fine (in a non-violent stage production, of course) until the moment your daughter really wants to know and understand all of the lyrics and dialog. My six-year-old loves The Marriage of Figaro, and I prefer it for her because I am troubled not so much by lust as by misogyny. In Flute,
"Over and over we are told that women are too weak and chatty to attain enlightenment and, worse, some of them, including the Queen of Night, are purveyors of the vilest sort of superstition and perversion. 'Protect yourself from the wiles of women,' sings one of Sarastro's priests. 'Many a wise man has allowed himself to be deceived.' And Sarastro sings, 'A man must lead the hearts of you women, because without him, every woman tends to overstep the bounds.' ... 'It's always been a head-scratcher for me, why we see the queen as evil and Sarastro as good .... The misogynist is the good guy? That doesn't make sense to me.' "
And why does Tamino love Pamina? Because her painted portrait is beautiful. These characters are sexist ciphers. I can't explain this sort of stuff to my daughter except to say it's ridiculous talk and behavior that we think is wrong -- and isn't the music wonderful.

The Marriage of Figaro, on the other hand, is a humane masterpiece of literature as well as of music. The story and characters are funny and moving in the most intensely human, adult, ways, and yet the opera is appropriate for children. (You'll probably need to explain that the married Count wants the unmarried Susanna as his "girlfriend." That makes the Countess sad, and it makes Susanna's fiance, Figaro, jealous.)

Beaumarchais, who wrote the play on which the opera is based, was a genius. Da Ponte, who wrote the opera's libretto, was a genius. As for Mozart, there are more "greatest classical hits" in Figaro than even in Flute. And the women that these geniuses have depicted for us are clearly smart, good, perceptive, admirable human beings. Sometimes foolish, sometimes lonely, but certainly no more so than the men. For honest reasons that make sense to us even today.
posted by Dave 9 at 2:36 PM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

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