Special Sub-Topic: Almost Everything About "The Magic Flute"
|"The Magic Flute" premiered in Vienna on September 30, 1791, three months before the composer's death. Mozart wrote the music, but who wrote the libretto?|
Emanuel Schikaneder. Emanuel Schikaneder was a producer, director, author, sometime violinist, singer, actor, and all-round irresponsible spendthrift. In 1790 - 91, he and his wife were producing entertainments in the Freihaus auf der Wieden - a temporary theatre in a Vienna suburb. The Magic Flute eventually made a lot of money for him and he toured Europe with his own production. He later built the Theater an der Wien, and died insane in 1812. Carl Ludwig Gleseke played the First Slave in the original production and then left Vienna to become professor of Minerology at the university of Dublin, for some strange reason. In 1823 he returned to Vienna and told everyone he had really written The Magic Flute. The story lingered on for years, and it was only in 1951 that Schikaneder's authorship was indisputably proven.
|What is The Magic Flute, exactly?|
A Singspiel. The Singspiel, or play with singing, was a new and increasingly popular form of entertainment in Vienna in the last quarter of the 18th century. It roughly corresponded to today's musical in that it mixed songs and dialogue and the music wasn't as demanding to sing. In contrast with operas, which were sung in Italian and a lot more serious, Singspiele were sung in German, a language people at the time still didn't think quite up to high art. They were full of gags and lots of special effects and a lot more popular with the general public (and more accessible).
|Mozart wrote The Magic Flute in only 6 months. This was even more impressive when one considers that he also wrote another opera at the same time - a serious, Italian one to celebrate the coronation of Leopold II. Which one was this?|
La Clemenza di Tito. He started the Requiem, as well. Not bad for a very sick man.
|Part of the myth surrounding "The Magic Flute" is its association with a secret society. Which one?|
The Freemasons. Freemasonry was very popular in the Austrian Lands during the last half of the 18th century, and both Mozart and Schikaneder belonged to the same lodge. Although Josef II proscribed measures against Freemasons as early as 1785, it remained very 'in' until the French revolution began, whereupon it became officially 'out'. Most lodges went underground. The Masonic influences on the music and libretto are undeniable - in the characters, the setting, and the re-occurence of the number three. The famous 'three chords' that appear in the overture and before Tamino's initiation are said to signify the three knocks of the initiate on the temple doors.
|All the characters in "The Magic Flute" have some symbolic significance - some easy to spot, some not. The Queen of the Night, in particular, has been the object of a lot of speculation. She's certainly evil, but who or what is she supposed to represent?|
All of these (Mozart's mother-in-law, Superstition, ignorance and blind faith, Emperess Maria Theresa). One theory has it that all the characters in the opera were meant to be figures significant to Viennese Freemasons. Tamino is Emperor Josef, Pamina is Austria, and The Queen of the Night is Maria Theresa, the woman who had the nerve to have her own husband's lodge raided. Another theory has it that MF is a celebration of the Enlightenment and the triumph of reason (Sarastro) over ignorance and superstition (The Queen of the Night). The mother-in-law theory is well known and shows up in the film Amadeus. Yet another notion suggests that the queen's pyrotechnical arias satirize the formal, Italianate operatic style. Who knows?
|Monostatos, the second-string villain, is a controversial character for modern audiences. Why?|
He's black. Monostatos (the one who is alone) has absolutely no redeeming qualities. This is because no one loves him and no one loves him, he points out explicitly, because he's black and black is ugly ('Weil ein Schwarzer haesslich ist'). This makes him a bit of a problem for producers. Most today put him down to the recurring motif of the dark seeking the light that runs through the opera. Dark-skinned villains, however, were common on the Viennese stage during the period and had a lot more to do with the Turks than what people think of as modern racism. An interesting look at what 18th century people thought about the problem is presented in Nicholas Hudson's "From Nation to Race: The origin of racial classification in eighteenth-century thought". It's found in "Eighteenth Century Studies", 1996, 29.
|Now it's time for the story. The curtain rises on the handsome Prince Tamino, who is desperately calling for help. Why is he so frightened?|
A giant serpent is chasing him. 'Zu Hilfe! Zu Hilfe! Sonst bin ich verloren!' He's out of ammunition and he's being chased by a big snake, so he faints. The three ladies kill the serpent and rescue him. This must be pretty embarrassing for him, because he's really really brave for the rest of the opera.
|When Tamino comes to and realizes he's been rescued, who takes the credit?|
Papageno. 'Drum kann ich froh und lustig sein, denn alle Voegel sind ja mein!' He's the birdcatcher. Papageno is a recognizable Kasperl, the stock goofy clown of Viennese tradition. Schikaneder himself played Papageno to great effect, they say.
|The Queen of the Night arrives and plays on Tamino's ready sympathies. She tells him that Sarastro, an evil wizard and coincidentally her ex, has kidnapped their daughter. If Tamino can get the girl back, she's his. Tamino is pretty impressed with the daughter's portrait. He falls in love instantly and sings...|
Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schoen. What a beautiful aria. It's clear that these two were meant for each other. They're both noble, great-looking and faint when attacked. Otherwise, both of them are really really brave.
|The three ladies get Tamino and Papageno ready for their quest. They give them two gifts that will help them. Tamino, of course, gets the magic flute. What's Papageno's present?|
A magic glockenspiel. The flute is gold when the ladies give it to Tamino, but weirdly, it is referred to as made from 1000-year-old wood later on in the opera. Papageno plays the pipes throughout, but the glockenspiel saves him at a critical moment.
|When they reach the Temple of Wisdom, Tamino and Papageno split up. Papageno stumbles upon Monostatos trying to rape Pamina and saves her. Tamino meets the speaker, who quickly convinces him that the queen has lied to him about Sarastro. How? The speaker tells Tamino...|
women are all feeble-minded gossips and by nature deceitful. 'Ein Weib hat also dich bedrueckt? Ein Weib tut wenig, plaudert viel...' A woman has tricked you? Women don't do much and they talk a lot. This is irrefutable 18th-century logic that Tamino responds to immediately. Woman as the Dark (and dumb) Side is a motif that is kept up all the way through The Magic Flute. If you want politically correct, don't listen to 18th-century opera.
|'Das klinget so herrlich, das klinget so schoen! Nie hab ich so etwas gehoert und geseh'n...' We've never heard anything so lovely! We've just got to dance! Who is enchanted here?|
Monostatos and the slaves. One of the truest melodies ever produced. Papageno plays his magic glockenspiel and sets everyone dancing to escape capture. Sarastro steps in, everything is explained, and Monostatos is dragged off for a whipping. Although the slaves are traditionally played as Moors, it is argued that their enduring hostility to Monostatos indicates that they were initially meant to be low-level initiates, and white.
|Tamino and Papageno begin their intitation into the Temple. What must they take a vow of?|
Silence. Tamino is okay, but Papageno just won't shut up. He has a long discussion with the three ladies, who have shown up to tempt our heroes. Although the priests have warned them both that guarding against women's wiles is the first rule of the temple, Papageno is so excited at the prospect of getting a wife he doesn't listen.
|It's night. Pamina is lying asleep on a couch. Monostatos spots her. Now's his chance! He gets closer...closer... Kaboom! 'Die Hoelle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen, Tod und Verzweiflung flammet um mich her!' Curses! Foiled again! Whose great big revenge aria has broken up the tender scene?|
The Queen of the Night. The queen wants Pamina to stab Sarastro; Pamina runs to Sarastro and tells all.
|Poor Pamina. She believes that Tamino has rejected her and she's thinking of suicide. Just at the point of plunging in the knife, someone stops her. Who?|
The three boys. 'Holdes Maechen, sieh uns an!' Listen to us, your guides, and forget about that knife. Tamino really loves you, he's just busy. Come on, we'll take you to him.
|Pamina approaches a rocky cave guarded by two men in armour. They sing a short chorale of the dangers Tamino must face. If you always thought this didn't sound much like Mozart, you're right. He didn't write it. Who (probably) did?|
Martin Luther. The text, 'Ach Gott vom Himmel sieh daran' was certainly taken by Luther from the 12th psalm and it is likely he wrote the tune as well. Actually, using a Protestant hymn in heavily Catholic Vienna was a bold move. Other composers have used Luther's music as well, including Bach. Mendelsohn uses 'A Mighty Fortress is our God' to great effect in the last movement of the Reformation symphony.
|Tamino is about to face the final tests of fire and water. No way he's going alone, says Pamina, and insists on going too. It is at this point that Tamino realizes for sure that she's a worthy mate and not like other women at all. This motif of the possiblity of equal and happy union, however, was raised earlier in the opera in a simpler, more homely way. What piece celebrated marriage?|
Bei Maennern, welche Liebe fuehlen. 'Mann und Weib, und Weib und Mann, reichen an die Gottheit an.' Together, a man and woman can achieve divinity. Sung by Pamina and Papageno in Act One.
|'Gute Nacht, du falsche Welt!' Tamino and Pamina are fine, but Papageno decides that life without a wife is not worth living and he's never going to get that wife he's been promised. It's suicide for him too. He decides to give the world one last chance, though, and does something almost unknown elsewhere in standard opera. What?|
He speaks directly to the audience. 'Isn't there one pretty girl who wants to stop me from doing this terrible thing? I'll count to three. One...two...two and a half...' The boys step in again, and make Papagena appear. All is well. In Singspiele actors often interacted with the audience, but not many Singspiele have made it into the standard repertoire.
|It's not quite over yet. The Queen of the Night has promised Pamina to Monostatos if he helps her, and her ladies destroy Sarastro and the temple. They rush in, only to be instantly destroyed by...what?|
Sunlight. 'Die Strahlen der Sonne vertreiben die Nacht!' The dark has been vanquished by the light and everything ends happily. Hurrah!
|In 1975 a film was made of The Magic Flute by a director with a rare ability to see the world through the eyes of a child. His fascination for 18th and 19th-century stagecraft also appears to effect, as it was filmed in the 18th-century theatre at Drottningholm Castle in Stockholm. Who is this director?|
Ingmar Bergman. The little girl in the audience during the overture is Bergman's daughter. In many ways, Bergman's 'Magic Flute' is much like his later 'Fanny and Alexander'. An enchanting film, and an enchanted opera. Lebet wohl, aufwiedersehn!
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