When I was 7, I saw Ingmar Bergman's "The Magic Flute." I must have had fun, because a few days later, my parents had a surprise for me: Otto Klemperer's recording of the opera. I still have a vivid memory of Tamino trying to escape his monster, and I still have those 3 boxed LPs. I listened so much to the first side that when The Three Ladies sweep in to help him, I hear "Nein, nein, nein, nein, nein, nein" playing to infinity in my head. Sometimes the needle would move past that scratch, but usually, I had to move it myself.
When I was 11, I had been playing flute for 3 years, and my teacher wanted me to get the Mozart concertos. I remember poring over the music on the first day, eagerly finding a passage that seemed delicious, playing those 4 measures until I had learned them, then marching into my parents' bedroom and saying, "Listen to this! Can you guess who wrote this? (Playing it.) It's Mozart. Isn't that just so Mozart?" Did I really say this? Probably not. Something like it, though.
When I was 15, I saw "Amadeus". I was hooked at this point. A few days later, I bought the soundtrack with my allowance and listened to it a lot. Sometimes, it accompanied my algebra homework, but much more often, I was either dancing to it or doing my own version of what now might be called Conductor Hero to it.
When I was 20, I played the G Major concerto to audition for The Cleveland Orchestra.
We play Mozart a lot in the orchestra, and often, we play it very, very well. Right now, it's better than ever.
This week, I feel like I'm 7 and 11 and 15 again. That is, I feel a wide-eyed wonder at Mozart's genius. I also feel incredibly fortunate to take part in a production of "The Marriage of Figaro" that is fresh and vital and inspiring.
I think what I respond to most strongly when it comes to Mozart is his absolute humanity. Figaro is about people with real cravings and real insecurities whose characters are presented not only in what they sing to each other and to us, but, particularly, in how they react to the situations that they create for themselves. They try, haphazardly sometimes, to take care of themselves and of each other, and we see ourselves depicted onstage and feel for them. The music is human, too. I can't think of any other composer who examines universal feelings and attitudes with such clarity and dimension then translates these themes into sound in a way that manages to be both artfully sophisticated and yet confidently natural at the very same time. Isn't this irony in itself human? It's funny and it's beautiful.
I love listening to and seeing Figaro. But, even better is playing it! Connecting words to music, understanding the emotional intentions behind a phrase, managing the theatrical architecture of an aria, collaborating on these endeavors with 40 other musicians in a pit and the glorious cast of singers onstage to enable Mozart's genius to lift off the ground is... I'm struggling for words here. It's so much more than fun.