Well, that comes, and it goes. I wrote a piece for the magazine about Jared Sparks’ bowdlerizing of the writings of George Washington in the eighteen-twenties and -thirties. Sparks, an old-style New England Federalist, wanted to venerate Washington; the Jacksonian Democrats who took him to task for his editorial presumption wanted to cut Washington down to size. Along comes the Civil War, and Washington looks different: Northerners don’t adore him because he was a slave-owner; Southerners can’t quite embrace him because, after all, the man freed his slaves. Fast forward: Washington is debunked in the nineteen-twenties, kitschy in the fifties, and heroic in the eighties. This isn’t sinister or even suspicious; mostly, it’s just interesting. All history works that way; it's just that all history doesn’t track political change, so no one notices, or much minds.
While talking about my favorite books with my wife, she pointed out the the conjunction of James Joyce and Lewis Carroll was not nearly so unlikely as it might seem with only a moment's consideration. In fact, it makes a great deal of sense. The playfulness that I love in Ulysses (and even more in Finnegans Wake) is already present in Carroll as a kind of verbal surrealism. "It's a poor sort of memory that works only backwards." But most particularly in the dialogue of Humpty Dumpty and Alice, in which Humpty explains:
from Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There
`Certainly,' said Alice.
`And only ONE for birthday presents, you know. There's glory for you!'
`I don't know what you mean by "glory,"' Alice said.
Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. `Of course you don't -- till I tell you. I meant "there's a nice knock-down argument for you!"'
I post this because whenever I recommend to anyone the Queen of Night, I always recommend it in the Lucia Popp rendition. It's a matter of personal taste, but what I love about this is that it is somewhat slower than the other versions and as a result, it would seem to me somewhat more difficult to perform and sustain--those high notes in which the Queen's voice becomes the Magic Flute itself are rounded, full, and deep while remaining light and airy. I have read some rather severe criticism of this ritardando; and while it may or may not reflect Mozart's intent, it is certainly within the options for staging. It creates a real vocal showpiece from what is already a magnificent example of same. It really is an amazing example of a virtuoso composition sung by a virtuoso voice. All of which should not be taken to mean that I do not truly appreciate the version posted earlier by Diana Damrau, it's just nice to see what a difference tempo can make.