IF I CAME BACK AS….The Queen of the Night by Amanda Holden
The Queen of the Night has never had a sympathetic press. The `baddie’ of The Magic Flute has two make-or-break solo scenes, audiences and critics are merciless if she misses all those top Fs and, as if that wasn’t tough enough, her third and final appearance in the opera makes little impression and can even appear risible. But the piece is dramaturgically wobbly; I always find the ending unsatisfactory… perhaps Mozart wrote it in a hurry… if he’d had time he might have revised it; discuss.
I have every sympathy for the Queen as a mum, but I would also love to have the courage and temerity to arrive on stage looking drop-dead gorgeous – accompanied by thunderclaps – as well as the technique and stamina to fling out coloratura as brilliantly as Lucia Popp on the Klemperer recording!
The Star Blazing Queen is the most original soprano role in Mozart’s operas – in fact, both dramatically and musically, there is no one to touch her in the whole operatic canon. Is there a comparable major coloratura soprano role? No; though I can think of a few others with a stratospheric tessitura and some inaudible words – there’s another advantage of this role, no one can complain that they can’t hear your words.
And there are hardly any decent mother roles in opera. Apart from the odd foster- or step- most female roles are lovers or daughters; mothers are usually not mentioned or they are safely dead. I suppose the archetypal good old mum is just too boring to be interesting. Other operatic mothers like Madam Butterfly or Sister Angelica are not heroines because they are mothers, but because they draw the short straw like Siobhan in The Archers, disposable for the sake of the drama.
A few literary and historical mothers have found their way into opera, but opera lessens their impact or just deletes them. Lucia di Lammermoor’s mother, the battleaxe Lady Ashton, is the baddie of the Walter Scott source, but doesn’t make it into the opera where Lucia mourns her (supposedly nice) dead mother. Gertrude in Hamlet, Clytemnestra in Elektra are obvious literary mothers from hell, Agrippina is the obvious historical one; Pamina’s ma, isn’t anything like as nasty as they are. Opera’s heroes and heroines don’t often have mothers, they would just get in the way; we all know that Figaro’s mother is a bit of a joke.
I’m also attracted by the Queen of the Night because I want to fight her corner. Her daughter has been abducted; an agonizing thought. And let’s face it, Sarastro could be in the wrong; not everyone wants to be an enlightened freemason and he is certainly a crashing sanctimonious bore. And I don’t blame the Queen for lining up a Prince for her daughter, if I had a daughter I’d want the best for her, and if I was a Queen….
I have three fantastic children. I don’t mind admitting that I have on occasion got a bit cross; you can’t be sweetness and light all the time and all of us have a dark side. But I can still aspire to be the most caring mother in (or out of) opera, with a laser beam of a top F to chuck at naughty children. Talking of which, when I took all my sons to see Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, one of them said: `Thanks for taking us to a play about a mother from Hell called Amanda’. . I don’t think any of us mums can claim to be mothers from heaven…
Opera, August 2007, p.1024