Mozart finished the work in September of 1791, the year of his death, and by November he was already in bed sick and died on December 5. It is inconceivable that this magnificent opera was written in the shadow of his death. The Magic Flute became the most frequently performed opera in the entire repertoire in the 20th century and the queen of the night has become one of the most famous figure of the whole operatic history.
The queen of the night
The Queen of the Night is an opera role from the famous Magic Flute by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
Why did she become famous? Because the role is very extreme. She has to sing absurdly long coloratura chains – Mozart wanted to show the madness of this character – and she has to sing one of the highest notes ever written for soprano in the famous aria “Die Hölle Rache”: She has to sing the high F. She loses herself in absolute ecstasy as she loses her composure.
The 3 appearances during the opera
1 – O zittre nicht – the first great aria of the Queen of the Night
Synopsis: The three ladies tell Pamino that the evil priest Sarastro is holding Pamina prisoner. Tamino is angry, and the three ladies instruct Pamino to save the princess. Pamino says yes with enthusiasm and the Queen of the Night appears. She laments her situation and promises the prince her daughter’s hand if he liberates her.
Mozart wrote this stage instruction at the appearance of the Queen of the Night: “The mountains divide and the theatre is transformed into a magnificent chamber. The Queen sits on a throne decorated with transparent stars”.
In the Allegro maestoso of the recitative, Mozart’s music immediately makes it clear that the Queen of the Night is a powerful woman. She begins in a rehearsed meæsthetic slowness. With singing the chromatic downward movement (ihr ängstliches Beben, ihr schüchternes Streben), she explains her misfortune to Tamino.
In the following aria, which changes into the major key, she orders Tamino to free her daughter. With long-lasting coloraturas (chains of sixteenth notes of coloratura during five bars) she sings about the Prince’s subsequent happiness of love. In the process, he sings herself in exstasy: staccato figures, coloratura chains (with a high f as the last note) and a trill are played one after the other to convince Tamino to tackle the dangerous rescue operation. Thunderous noises finish this impressive piece.
Diana Damrau was the most famous queen for several years. In 2010 she sang them for the last time. An interesting reason why, from an interview with the FAZ: “The “Queen” is an absolute high performance sport. It’s not just the height. You hear everything in these arias, with their purity, completely without portamenti, you hear everything immediately if something doesn’t work out. And the older I get, the more time my body needs to regenerate. Because of this effort and because my calendar was getting fuller and fuller, I decided not to sing “Queen” anymore.
O zittre nicht (1) – Damrau
An impressive production with Natalie Dessay.
O zittre nicht (2) – Dessay
2 – Der Hölle Rache – the famous aria of the queen of the night
Synopsis: The Queen of the Night learns that Tamino is trying to join Sarastro’s circle, instead of freeing her daughter Pamina from his hands. She is outraged. She tells Pamina that her deceased husband has handed over the Sun Circle to Sarastro and he thus received power. She orders her daughter to kill Sarastro and to steal the sun circle.
This aria is often referred to as “Revenge aria”. It is peppered with murderous difficulties and leads the voice to the outermost regions of the voice range. The high note F is the highest note set in the opera repertoire. The end is again a recitative-like passage marked by hate.
The singer of the premiere was Mozart’s sister-in-law Josepha Hofer. It is said that Hofer had a particularly agile voice with a pronounced high register. So Mozart wrote this aria in her throat.
We hear two great interpretations by leading interpreters of the Queen of their generations.
We’ll start with perhaps the best version, the interpretation by Edda Moser from the Sawallisch recording. We hear the queen seething with rage. The Staccatos blaze up dramatically like in no other interpretation.
Der Hölle Rache (Revenge aria) (1) – Moser
Diana Damrau, the (possibly) best Queen of her generation.
Der Hölle Rache (Revenge aria) (2) – Damrau
3 – The finale
Synopsis: Monostatos has joined forces with the Queen of the Night to free Pamina. But Sarastro drives her away with thunder and lightning into eternal night. At sunrise, Pamina and Tamino are taken into the circle of initiates in the temple.
Nur Stille … Die Strahlen der Sonne
Mozart composed this opera in the year of his death. He finished the work in September 1791. He attended many performances in October and was pleased that after a long time he was able to celebrate an audience success with another work. In November he was already ill in bed and died on December 5. Unbelievable that this opera was written in the shadow of death.
Meryl Streep made this aria known to a bigger public when she played the (true) role of Florence Foster Jenkins, who was a rich, elderly woman and hobby singer – who could absolutely not sing at all. One of her favourites was the aria of the queen