Der Holle Rache Kocht in Meinem Herzen

Up there is one of my favourite arias, ‘Der Holle Rache Kocht in Meinem Herzen’ (Hell’s wrath boils in my heart), from the Mozart opera The Magic Flute.

It’s probably one of the most famous arias in all of opera, and definitely the most famous piece from this particular opera. Wikipedia’s article puts it best: ‘highly memorable, fast paced and menacingly grandiose.’ It’s notoriously challenging to perform, particularly with those extremely high ‘triplets’ that make the soprano sound almost like an instrument. It seems Mozart wrote it for his sister in law’s vocal skill.

‘Der Holle Rache’ demonstrates best that one annoying thing about arias: you can never find the version you like entirely. The piece is at once emotionally charged (it’s about a mother burning in rage urging her daughter to kill somebody) and technically challenging, so performers often have to compromise either acting or skill. That performance by Dessay up there lacked nothing in acting but was too screechy.

This version of Sumi Jo on the other hand is beautifully sung but lacks emotion.

This version by Hungarian soprano Erika Miklosa is the most balanced I’ve seen so far. Just fast enough, with the right emotive modulations. I also love how futuristic the set is – come to think of it, The Magic Flute, which is riddled with metaphors, is a very strange opera, and futuristic renditions of it would not be out of place at all.

This aria is special for me. I often listen to it, or play it aloud, when I enjoy triumphs and achieve important accomplishments (when I got into workshops for example, or when I found out I got accepted into Silliman’s GTF program).

I’ve loved it since I heard someone I admired whistle it when I was thirteen. The grandeur, the delicacy, and the sweeping elegance of it all stirred the tagabukid social climber in me. The wrath in its lyrics is not articulated with the chaotic noise (read: screams) we often associate it with but with controlled (European) floridness, a  stylistic detail that reminds us that the deepest vengeance is extravagant but never unrestrained: everything should be deliberate.

That association with controlled but glorious vengeance is why I’ve come to play this song in moments of success – I grew up being vindictive, and my greatest successes were often in vengeance: successes are signs, ultimately I thought, that the world that had so refused to acknowledge me was wrong. I’ve since mellowed a lot of course, and triumphs, while fleeting joys in this inconstant world, nevertheless should be enjoyed on their own.

I still play the song though, and that lends  every triumph a deeper layer of meaning – it is not only a triumph in its own right, but that I am enjoying it thus is triumph in itself against that past of welthassen (you will pardon the coinage, I don’t do it too often). It reminds me that I am now free to appreciate things without hating others.

Of course I am thinking aloud now.

But that does give you a hint: if I post the song here, something good has just happened to me.

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