Posted tagged ‘Mozart’

The Relatives Who Would Be Famous – Elvis’s Grandson

October 7, 2009
Across the Aisle - "The Boy Who Would Be King"

Across the Aisle - "The Boy Who Would Be King"

I step into the subway train this morning and pass a New York Post open to the headline “The Boy Who Would be King.”

I, of course, think immediately of my blog of yesterday, in which I describe Robert Pattinson and Rupert Grint competing for the part of Prince Harry in a new movie to be called “The Spare.”

But the face that stares out at me diagonally and upside down as I sit down across the aisle has a distinctly American look.  Yes, the hair stands straight up, but not in the British-accenty, nearly-stuttering, hand-tousled style of RPatz, but straight up like angry crab grass.  It’s looks rougher, more bristly than Pattinson’s, and (although you figure something artificial has to be going on with Rob’s hair), these tresses are clearly dippity-dooed.  (Oops—I’m showing my age here.)  Gelled.

Then my eyes catch a couple of words of the caption.  “Elvis” is one, “grandson,” the other.

I can see the resemblance now, the rounded forehead that’s also square at the edges, a certain set to the chin.

OMG, I think.  But not in a truly enthusiastic way.

Yes, I like Elvis.   Actually, I love Elvis.  And I wish good luck to his grandson.  But what dismays me is how oligarchical this country has become.  The worlds of both entertainment and politics seem more and more like one huge dynasty trust.  (This, in case you don’t know, is a form of family trust intended to go on and on and on, minimizing tax, and building wealth for lucky future generations.)

Famous families, musical families, political families, are, of course, a tradition of sorts.  Look at the Mozarts, Wolfgang, son of Leopold.  Then there were the Brontes—Emily, Anne, Charlotte and Branwell.  (Only they were siblings, so they may not count.)   Still, what about the… Plantagenets, the Tudors, the Bonapartes, the Romonovs, the Redgraves….

But they were all European, for goodness sake.  The U.S. is supposed to be the land of opportunity, fresh starts, wide open spaces, being judged by your own merits and not because of your birth–

Okay, even the U.S. has had its historical political and entertainment families—the Roosevelts, the Rockefellers, the Barrymores.  But lately, it feels as if famous families have multiplied faster than rabbits; there are just so many interconnections:  the Kennedys, the Bushes, the Clintons, Evan Bayh (son of Birch), Al Gore Jr.  (son of Al Senior), Andrew Cuomo (son of Mario), to name a few.

I have to confess that I really don’t pay much attention to the world of entertainment.  (Robert Pattinson is about the only modern “celebrity” I know.)  Still, even I can come up with a bunch of actor/entertainer relatives.  (And I don’t mean to minimize the talents of any, just to point out the connections):   the Fondas, of course, Michael Douglas, George Clooney, Kate Hudson, Liza Minelli, Carrie Fisher, Nicole Ritchie, Sophia Coppola, McKenzie Phillips.

And now, we have Elvis’s grandson.

I just hope he inherited some blue suede shoes.

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September 19, 2009

Looking at clips of the Papageno-Papagena duet from the Magic Flute.   (Here are some links: (poor quality tape, but Met production) and

I remember as a child watching the movie made by Ingmar Bergman, how amazed I was that an aria could have “pa” as its primary word, and be so joyously silly.   Ah Mozart.

More on Conditioned Parental Love- The Magic Flute

September 19, 2009

Still thinking about the New York Times Article “Mind:  When Parent’s ‘I Love You’ Means ‘Do As I Say’, by  Alfie Kohn (published September 14, 2009) now in the context of Die Zauberflote (The Magic Flute), by Mozart.  (I saw a dress rehearsal today of the Met’s wonderful production, designed by Julie Taymor.)

The story does not make much sense:  there is the romantic prince hero, Tamino, and the pragmatic everyman hero, Papageno, the conniving, deceptive, alluring, mother, the Queen of the Night, and the wise but endlessly testing father figure-cum-holyman-cum wizard guy (with a very deep voice) Sarastro, and too, the beautiful soprano Pamina who is a bit of a pawn swapped among them.

There is much that is supernatural:  the Queen’s helpers who in Taymor’s production sport oversized (almost Mayan looking) mask faces; the Three Spirits, little boys in underwear with bleached spiked hair and long wispy beards, who ride on a puppeteered flying bird, the birds themselves, dancers with flamingo heads, and ballet-slippered stilts.

There are slaves and betrayals and endless, seemingly arbitrary tests of character, meant (a) to purify the suitors, and (b) to separate the wheat from the chaff—that is, the strong, manly, silent types from chatty pragmatic everymen but more importantly from deceptive wiley women.  Wisdom and love, and some really great robes and headgear, are the prize.

While the story highlights the importance of steadfastness, bravery, self-discipline, the ultimate savior is music.  The power of music is represented by the magic flute given to the princely Tamino (oddly by the bad Queen of the Night), the magic bells or glockenspiel, given to Papageno, the pure songs of the Spirits.  But, overwhelming all of that is the sublime, beautiful music of the opera itself, composed by Mozart towards the end of his life.

This time, watching the opera, looking at the subtitles, trying (a teeny bit) to make sense of the story, I could not help but think of the New York Times article about parental love, and the effects of negative and positive conditioning, particularly, negative conditioning;  described in the article as parental withholding of affection to make children mind.

Die Zauberflote, which, of course, is in German, is a model of positive and negative conditioning (mainly negative).  Love is repeatedly withheld, both by authority figures, and even lovers themselves; punishment is meted out. Papageno, at the opening of the Opera, gets a padlock attached to his lips to teach him not to tell lies;  the Queen of the Night curses her daughter to make her try to kill Sorastro;  Tamino himself, must withhold affection from Pamina to pass his wisdom test;  the wizardly Sorastro says that vengeance does not live in the temple of wisdom, but also orders his bad servant, Monostatos, to get one hundred lashes; Papageno is threatened with a life of bread, water and imprisonment if he doesn’t give his hand to the withered old lady who is the disguised Papagena; Papageno is also nearly struck by lightening for chattering;  and even Tamino’s whole testing regimen is a bit of a punishment, arising from his original distrust of Sarasto and allegiance to the Queen of the Night.

It’s hard to come up with the positive conditioning–it’s mainly there in the form of false promises, I suppose, the promises of the Queen of the Night in particular.  (Praise and offers of rewards which should not be believed.)

In short, the path to love and wisdom and truth winds in and out of punishment, withheld affection, and artful alluring deception.   It’s a path that can only be negotiated through discipline, and with the help, the wondrous, miraculous help, of music.

Okay, it’s a cliché.  (And yes, I did see Amadeus)  But I couldn’t help thinking of the young Mozart, practicing the harpsichord  under the stern eye of his father, then overcoming all obstacles in his path (the crowned heads of Europe, but also that very same father) with the marvelous music he played and created.

In the opera, there is a bit of an exemption from all the discipline for the less high;   Papageno, the everyman, who says he doesn’t need to inhabit the exalted halls of wisdom for happiness, but is content with a glass of wine and a little turtledove wife, has slightly lesser trial.  These are passed by energy, good humor, loyalty, and, of course, the miraculous power of music;  in this case, the magic glockenspiel.

I sure wish I had one.