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I have a shelf of the Penguin paperback edition of Shakespeare's plays in the hallway of the apartment, and the one I picked out at random the other day was The Tempest. Leafing through the introduction, I read that the play has always been considered one of Shakespeare's "problem plays", because it puts aside the deep psychological complexity of his great tragedies in favour of almost mythic and allegorical ways of telling a story. Prospero is an exiled aristocrat who in his exile has mastered sorcery and magic. He is possessed of powers to summon the spirits of the air to do his bidding, to cause a great storm that wrecks a ship at the start of the play, yet also with enough power to prevent most of the people on board from drowning:

                                                   Have comfort.
The direful spectacle of the wrack, which touched
The very virtue of compassion in thee,
I havewith such provision in mine art
So safely ordered, that there is no soul -
No, not so much perdition as an hair
Betid to any creature in the vessel
Which thou heards't cry, which thou sawst sink.

It's a rescue play and a trial play: Prospero and Miranda are ultimately rescued from the island, enemies are vanquished and then reconciled, two young lovers are put through tests by Prospero who finally is persuaded that they are worthy of each other.

By coincidence I have also been listening a lot Mozart's The Magic Flute. I now see that it has lots of features in common with The Tempest: a mythic male figure who possesses power over others (Sarastro), magical elements and magical beings, and of course a series of trials that the hero undergoes before he wins the girl. Intriguingly, Mozart was about to be asked if he would write an operatic version of The Tempest by some patrons, but died before the request could be made. Clearly, the would-be commissioners were on the right track.

As far as the stories go, I don't see the allegorical nature of the material in either case as a problem, or a disadvantage: it only means that we are called upon to experience time, place, and character in a different way, not as profoundly as when we watch the fall and death of a great person, perhaps, but no less satisfying.

And of course, with Mozart, there is the music. The first clip is the incomparable Fritz Wunderlich singing one of my favourite arias, Tamino's "Dies Bildnis". The second one has the words subtitled:


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