Mario and the Magician
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Mario and the Magician is one of Mann's most political stories. Mann openly criticizes fascism, a choice which later became one of the grounds for his exile to Switzerland following Hitler's rise to power. The magician, Cipolla, is analogous to the fascist dictators of the era with their fiery speeches and rhetoric. The story was especially timely, considering the tensions in Europe when it was written. Stalin had just seized power in Russia, Mussolini was urging Italians to recapture the glory of the Roman Empire, and Hitler with his rhetoric was quickly gaining steam in Germany. The end of the story represents Mann's changing political views; he moved from staunch support of the Kaiser during his early life to a belief in progressive, democratic values in Europe and a desire to rid the continent of fascist influences.
The narrator describes a trip by his family to the fictional seaside town of Torre di Venere, Italy. It becomes unpleasant, partly because he finds the Italian people to be too nationalistic. The family attends a performance by a magician and hypnotist named Cipolla, who uses his mental powers in a "fascist" way to control his audience. Cipolla may well represent the mesmerizing power of authoritarian leaders in Europe at the time —he is autocratic, misuses power, and subjugates the masses in an attempt to counterbalance his inferiority complex by artificially boosting his self-confidence. Cipolla's assassination by Mario, a native of Torre di Venere, is not a tragedy but a liberation for the audience.
The story/novel has been adapted several times for the operatic stage. Stephen Oliver's adaptation was premiered in 1988 at the Battignano Festival. 1989 saw a one-act opera by the Hungarian composer János Vajda to a libretto by Gábor Bókkon. A recording was issued in 1990 on the Hungaroton label. . A three-hour-long opera adaptation by composer Harry Somers with lyrics by Rod Anderson premiered 19 May 1992 at the Elgin Theatre, Toronto. Mario and the Magician was adapted into an English opera by librettist J. D. McClatchy and composer Francis Thorne. It was first performed in 2005 by the Center for Contemporary Opera in the auditorium of Hunter College. A recording of this production was released on compact disc by Albany Records in 2006. The original cast included Justin Vickers as Mario, Larry Small, Jessica Grigg, Wendy Brown, Beata Safari, Sankofa Sarah Wade, Jim Gaylord, Eric Jordan, Isai Jess Muñoz, Leandra Ramm, Richard Cassell, Jason Cammorata and Nathan Resika. There is also a 1994 film with Klaus Maria Brandauer as Cipolla and Julian Sands as the patriarch, directed by Brandauer.