My granddaughter, Sadie, is nearly four. She and I drive to California in my car to spend a week in a rented house at the beach with extended family. Her parents and two brothers follow in another car. With Sadie buckled in her car seat behind me, I look for ways to entertain her as I drive. “Want to hear a story about a princess?” I ask. Of course she does. I slip my newly purchased CD of The Magic Flute into the car stereo system and begin. “A prince wanders into an unknown land where a scary monster snake lives. When the princes sees the snake, he is so scared that he faints. Three mysterious women kill the snake and tell their queen about the handsome prince.” I look in the rear-view mirror and see that Sadie is hooked. “Then what happens?” she asks.
“A funny man named Papageno, dressed all in feathers, finds the prince just as he wakes up. The prince sees the dead snake and asks who killed it, and Papageno lies and says that he did. The three mysterious women hear Papageno lie about the snake and punish him by putting a lock on his mouth.” I look at Sadie in the mirror. “Listen, Sadie, here’s how Papageno sings with a lock on his mouth.” I punch the CD forward, and Papageno hums, “Hm, hm, hm, hm. . . .” Sadie laughs out loud and begs me to play that part over and over again. I do, and I wonder at the understanding of a little girl. I would never have known a story about an opera when I was a child.