Czarodziejska góra / The Magic Mountain
Paweł Mykietyn’s opera The Magic Mountain after Thomas Mann was a special commission from the Malta Festival in Poznań. Its premiere was the result of cooperation of four artists: composer Paweł Mykietyn, playwright Małgorzata Sikorska-Miszczuk, visual artist Mirosław Bałka, and actor–director Andrzej Chyra. The libretto, based on Thomas Mann’s novel of 1924, describes the intellectual, emotional and spiritual coming-of-age of Hans Castorp, a visitor to the Berghof sanatorium in Davos. In the Polish artists’ version, the central figure is an American woman whom Mann only mentions in passing early in the novel, in just one sentence. We learn that she died before Hans’s arrival and that he took over her room. In the opera, the American woman is the filter through which we observe the events. Her presence blurs the boundaries between life and death and turns The Magic Mountain into—as its director puts it—“a tale of maturing to die.”
A young American dies at the Berghof sanatorium two days before Hans Castorp’s arrival. Her death occurs in Room 34, which Hans is soon going to occupy. Before her death, she dreams of Hans finding her stilettos—the shoes she bought with a great desire to live and love.
She is accompanied at her deathbed by Dr Behrens and Dr Krokowski, who see her beautiful dream. Hans Castorp arrives and meets his cousin Joachim Ziemssen at the station. Although Ziemssen looks fine, he must stay another six months in the sanatorium.
At supper, Joachim unexpectedly begs his cousin not to leave him and not to betray him. He says he loves Hans and he will always hear his call, even in the Land of Death. Dr Krokowski arrives and claims that Hans had reached Berghof like Jonah after a long journey and that it had been predicted, for everything is linked and synchronised.
Hans is bewildered by Joachim’s confession, Dr Krokowski’s mysterious claims, and by the fact that he will sleep in a formaldehyde-disinfected bed in which the American recently died.
Meanwhile, the American is still in her bed. She looks at Hans and says to herself: I think I know him. She asks Hans: Please sleep with me. Hans says he wants to sleep and she should know better, being dead.
The following day brings even stranger events. Hans meets Settembrini, Behrens, Mrs Stöhr, Wehsal and other residents (Choir), and most importantly, Clavdia Chauchat. He observes the ritual of taking one's temperature. He wonders at the strangeness of this world. His face burns.
He notices that Joachim is in love with a Russian girl named Marusja, though he tries to hide it. Fascinated with this unusual world, Hans takes his temperature and discovers he has a fever. Joachim is horrified at the discovery that Hans has fallen ill for the love of Clavdia. He tries to discourage Hans and talk him out of his fascination with... Russia. All in vain.
In the meantime, Hans finds the American woman’s shoes and she recognises in him the beloved from her dream. She declares love for him in the aria: My womb longs its own way; the hands, thighs, mouth have their own way.
But Hans is in love with Clavdia. He discovers that Dr Behrens has painted a highly sensual portrait of her. Walpurgis Night comes. Mrs Stöhr sings the aria The Anaconda Shall Swallow All. She sings that the anaconda carries the whole world in its belly: Hans Castorp, Joachim Ziemssen, every one of us. What for? That is a mystery. While she sings, all Berghof patients call out individual words and phrases that reveal their obsessions, fears and desires. Walpurgis Night ends with Hans’s confession of love for Clavdia. He uses the American’s words: My womb longs its own way. The American hears this: My words! She is desperate; her beloved used her own words to spend the night with another. Let the earth crack, let the water hiss. In the meantime, Clavdia has left. Dr Behrens tells Hans to cheer up: she will be back. But he adds: The Russian pussycat–I love it when she meows in French. Hans realises he was not the only one. Feeling that his love for Marusja is hopeless and that Hans has abandoned him, Joachim decides to leave. Hans sees him off to the station. He feels nothing but a void. When the train disappears, the American arrives and sings Hans the aria Now I am a raven, describing her frustrated love and ending with the words: I Am a Raven, I am Death.
Hans makes up his mind to go to the mountains. Does he want to die? Settembrini tries in vain to stop him.
Naphta asks Settembrini the “fundamental” question: Where does the soul reside? He tells the story of a devil– iceman who destroys the human soul. But Settembrini does not want to listen to Naphta’s fables, unlike Hans, who listens attentively to his mentors. As he listens, he misses Clavdia very much.
Joachim returns. He is ill. Before his death he talks to Marusja. He denies that he loved her, and he thanks her for not leading him on. Despite these words, they both understand they are talking about love. Joachim dies, Mrs Stöhr weeps – silly tears.
Marusja and the dead Joachim talk. The happy Joachim asks her to caress him; she should not stop. That was so little, he complains. Marusja reproaches him: You had to die before I could touch you. Behrens tells Joachim to stop and bear it in a soldierly fashion. Marusja leaves.
Clavdia and Peeperkorn arrive. They are a couple now. Clavdia ignores Hans for four long weeks. He suffers. Eventually he gets introduced to Peeperkorn as a “casual acquaintance.” Hans observes Peeperkorn, whom Clavdia described as a man “of great calibre.” He discovers Peeperkorn’s weak point: his love for Clavdia.
Clavdia meets Hans. She offers him friendship and kisses him in the mouth. The desperate Hans complains to us and the heavens: Stop staring at me, my soul has walked away. All of Hans’s mentors: Krokowski, Behrens, Settembrini, Naphta and Mrs Stöhr hold a meeting. What can be done to bring Hans’s soul back? Behrens recommends that his brain be taken out of the skull, cleaned and placed back in its place. Naphta suggests they blow gold dust into Hans’s eyes. Eventually they all commence the ritual of supplication to Water in order restore to Hans his lost soul. The American arrives and says let us finish this story at last.
Hans visits Peeperkorn and tells him he was one of Clavdia’s many lovers. He implies that Peeperkorn deludes himself when he thinks he has her love. Hans knows these cold words will kill Peeperkorn’s soul, and he is right: Peeperkorn commits suicide. Behrens confirms: suicidium – poison went straight into his vein. This was a fulfilment of Naphta’s words: The devil that kills the soul is cold. Hans has listened carefully to the words of his mentors.
Clavdia visits Hans and asks whether he loves her. Hans says he “needs to think about it.” He humiliates her and says he used words “of great calibre” to describe their night together to Peeperkorn. He kisses her goodbye on the forehead.
After Clavdia’s departure Hans “trembles all the time,” as the Chorus sings. Naphta accuses Settembrini: this is your fault: Russia and hate, that’s all you’ve been able to say. Settembrini challenges him to a duel. Naphta commits suicide: he shoots himself in the temple. At the same time, a séance begins. Krokowski uses Elly Brandt as a medium to talk to the dead. Hans calls the spirit of Joachim, who comes as promised. Hans asks him for forgiveness. The American also comes; Hans is wondering why she is standing barefoot in the snow. The American answers that Hans has taken her stilettos. Naphta gives marriage to Hans and the American woman. Joachim acts as a witness, but most of the time he just plays with snowballs. Sheva Brachot, says Naphta in Hebrew, seven blessings. – Why so many?, wonders Hans. – They will come handy, decides the American. They sit down and look at each other and the world.