Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte (the Magic Flute), 1791

Friday May 26th

The People’s Opera

Revisit the BBC documentary for a splendid account of Mozart’s opera in German (no more Italian operas for him – in a small theatre with Schikaneder's theatrical troupe. “Often referred to by many as Mozart’s only pantomime, The Magic Flute is a riot of life, lust and ludicrous plot that somehow belies its portentous position in Mozart’s output.” More. Read The Opera Blog for a marvellous who’s who.

Humanist ideals vs. Punch & Judy opera

Schikaneder and Mozart were Masons as was Ignaz Alberti, engraver and printer of the first libretto. The opera is also influenced by Enlightenment philosophy, and can be regarded as an allegory advocating enlightened absolutism. The Queen of the Night represents a dangerous form of obscurantism or, according to some, the anti-Masonic Roman Catholic Empress Maria Theresa, or, according to others, the contemporary Roman Catholic Church itself, which was also strongly anti-Masonic. Her antagonist Sarastro symbolises the enlightened sovereign who rules according to principles based on reason, wisdom, and nature. The story itself portrays the education of mankind, progressing from chaos (the serpent) through religious superstition (the Queen and Ladies) to rationalistic enlightenment (Sarastro and Priests), by
means of trial (Tamino) and error (Papageno), ultimately to make "the Earth a heavenly kingdom, and mortals like the gods" ("Dann ist die Erd' ein Himmelreich, und Sterbliche den Göttern gleich"); this couplet is sung in the finales to both acts. (Wikipedia) At first glance, Mozart’s “Magic Flute” appears to be a typical Viennese magic or “Punch & Judy” opera, but it is much more. With the triumph of good over evil, the serious scenes of the choir of priests – reminiscent of a gathering of freemasons – and a production that was unfamiliar to the contemporary opera audience of Mozart’s time, the work is deeply imbued with humanistic idealism. The elevation of the genre and the evident display of freemasonic ideals at first did not cause a stir among the audience of Vienna’s bourgeoisie. But reservation quickly made way for enthusiasm and the opera became increasingly successful. Apparently, this Mozart opera also needed some time to be fully appreciated in all its depth…  (

Imagining the opera

Productions are patchy – this opera is hard to do well.  Here's a cynical review, and another. But artists love it. In 1967 Marc Chagall designed the Met’s performance:   And the later production we are playing is designed by David Hockney. His 1977 set designs for the 1978 Glyndebourne Festival were later adapted for the Metropolitan Opera. These and later artists’ amazing images are detailed here.