The Queen of the Night – In Full Detail

15 Dec

The Queen of the Night is one of the most famous opera roles in the history of the world.

It is the ambition of every soprano to sing this intimidating role which, surprisingly, features only two arias, and one brief ensemble. This amasses to roughly ten minutes of stage time. How can so small a role be so influential? Well, it is because Mozart wrote two of the most difficult and beautiful arias ever composed for the soprano voice, and gave them to the villain of the piece! Stand aside, boring romantic heroes, the bad guy is gonna sing!

In Mozart’s “Die Zauberflote” (The Magic Flute), a Javanese (sic) Prince named Tamino, narrowly escapes death at the jaws of a voracious serpent (i.e. Dragon) when he is rescued by some beautiful ladies with spears. They are certain, upon close examination of how hot he is, that he would be perfect to go on a mission for the goddess, the Queen of the Night, whose daughter has been “kidnapped.”

I put “kidnapped” in quotes, because as you soon find out, The Queen of the Night is the villain, and she is hoping the Prince Tamino will assassinate the mighty Sorcerer, Sarastro, is his attempt to rescue her daughter (who is indeed in Sarastro’s land, but for entirely different reasons).

The Queen of the Night descends from the sky, and in her lamenting plaint, begs the Prince to rescue her daughter. Then, after she’s sure he’s thoroughly convinced, she promises him her daughters hand, glory, and the world!*

I first heard this aria, “O Zittre Nicht Mein Lieber Sohn”, in Ingmar Bergman’s film adaptation of The Magic Flute in 2001, and I was hooked! Over the years, I drew many different pictures of the Queen of the Night. Once, in the midst of illustrating the operas of Gilbert and Sullivan for my Gilbert and Sullivan Notecard Collection, I stopped to do a black and white drawing of the Queen of the Night in the same style:

Queen of the Night Drawing

An early drawing of mine, illustrating the Act 1 Aria "O zittre Nicht"

Years later, when I decided to illustrate the operas of Mozart through Photography, it was time to bring one of my favorite pieces of music to life!

The Queen of the Night, in this scene, is sad. In order to convince Tamino that she is a good Queen, I expect that she would dress modestly, in a sort of mourning gown without any embellishment. That way, it seems like she’s taken the loss of her daughter really badly. A sort of Queen Victoria of the sky.

The simple dress would say to Tamino, “I’m a simple woman, who doesn’t embellish her gowns, let alone the truth!”

Tamino, on the other hand, is a Javanese Prince. Now according to the internet, font of all knowledge,  Javanese means a person from the islands off the coast of Asia. More specifically, today it is used to refer to a mix of Taiwanese and Indonesian peoples. Before designing Tamino’s costume, I had to ask myself, “What kind of Prince is Tamino?” When you look at another play by the same author “Der Stein der Weisen” (See my last post), the hero is similarly a young man, traveling the world, looking for women. However, in that opera, Nadir, spends most of the play questing and accumulating an absurdly large stash of weapons (Just like Link!), and so, of course, his outfit would reflect all the wear and tear of a long journey. But Tamino, poor fellow, faints when he sees a dragon. Now, according to what the music is telling us, this is because he’s exhausted, but according to most stage directors, this is because he’s a wimp.

I imagine it’s a bit of both, though. I invented this back story for Tamino:

Tamino was charged by his father to explore the world and bring home a treasure rarer than all the rest. The Prince gathered a retinue of Lords and Warriors, and spent much of his journey traveling at a leisurely pace, meeting new people in foreign kingdoms, but never finding what his father sent him to find. After crossing Asia he came to the Mountains of the Middle East, where his group began to face trouble. Many died before they reached Egypt. Tamino’s quest changed from finding a treasure, to survival, something he was unprepared for as a pampered Prince. Then, one day, while crossing the desert, heading for the vast temples and buildings in the distance, and dressed in his Princely travel garments, a dragon attacked and ate everybody. The Prince fled into the rocky cliffs, shouting for help! When suddenly… the opera starts!

So, I designed Tamino as part leisurely Traveler, Part Prince.

Costume Sketches

Act 1 Costume Sketches for Tamino and The Queen of the Night

The first costume I made was for the Queen of the Night and I used a pattern to make a very basic Renaissance gown out of black polyester suiting. Because the Queen of the Night is not telling the whole truth when she meets Tamino, I made her some reflective claws to wear on each finger, hinting at the danger behind the sob story. I also decided to give her a glittering French Hood Cap, studded with gems, to indicate that she is, indeed, a Queen, and not just some nut who sits around on the moon all day crying.

The Full View of the Queen of the Night's Gown

This dress was only the second thing I ever sewed after my mother taught me how to sew in 2009! After this, I jumped straight to a fully boned corset, and I’ve been going strong ever since!

The back of the Queen of the Night's Dress

Sleeve Detail from The Queen of the Night's dress

The Queen’s French Hood Cap was based on the French Hood from Simplicity Pattern 2589, but altered to be more threatening with the shape of horns. The tiara band was cut on the edges, which left only the gem arrangement, and this allowed me to sew it onto the cap. I did this to mimic the stars shooting through the sky — something that I felt it was necessary to reflect in the Queen of the Night’s costume.

The Queen of the Night's French Hood Cap, with gems and a tiara sewn on

This is the Close up of the details in the Queen's Hood Cap

In 2009 I traveled to Los Angeles to photograph The Queen of the Night and Tamino. The models, Katie and Edward, were very gung-ho and a lot of fun. The first half of the day, my Hair and Make-up Lady, Jadi, model Edward, our friend Samantha and I drove to the coast to do the Tamino/Dragon shots. The second half of the day, Katie joined us as the Queen of the Night to do a studio shoot.

Model Prep

Here Edward, Katie and I get ready for the shoot.

We worked pretty far into the night, and Katie needed to eat:

Model Eating

The Queen of the Night in her natural Habitat, eating lasagna.

Edward enjoyed his down time by filming the proceedings with his camera:

Models chat

Edward and Katie review images from earlier that day.

If you would like to see the final images from this shoot, I have posted a video which features both the Queen of the Night’s first act aria by Mozart, as well as the photographs I created in order to illustrate the scene!

Or watch the video at You Tube.

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2 Responses to “The Queen of the Night – In Full Detail”

  1. nadia nasr December 15, 2015 at 6:08 am #

    Great opera ….. thank you so much for sharing

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Die Zauberflote – Queen of the Night in Stage Design « onedelightfulday - January 7, 2011

    […] my last post about The Queen of the Night, I thought it might be fun to show some of the more popular design sketches for the character The […]

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