Opernhaus Zurich recently paid host to one of the most famous Operas – ‘The Magic Flute’ by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart with a libretto (text used in an opera) by Emanuel Schikaneder.
Composed in 1791, a few months before Mozart’s death at the age of 35, this Opera falls under the genre of ‘Zauberoper’ (magic opera or fairy tale opera). It was written at a time when magic operas were trendy. What sets this one apart is the complicated and bizarre storyline with unexpected twists and the veiled reference to the Freemasons.
Tamino (the prince) is saved by three ladies (the helpers of the ‘Queen of the Night’). They show him the picture of Pamina, the queen’s daughter, who is in the custody of Sarastro (the villain and high priest who runs a hierarchical order). Prince Tamino falls in love with Pamina and vows to save her. He is given a magic flute to help him in his journey. He is accompanied by his sidekick Papageno (bird catcher) and guided by three spirits. During his interactions with Sarastro, Tamino realizes that Sarastro is not the person he is made out to be. The story revolves around how Tamino succeeds in the various tests Sarastro puts up for him, how he enters the Temple order and wins his lady-love.
The Magic Flute is a ‘Singspiel’ (spoken dialogues combined with song) and the Queen of the Night has the most difficult and best singing portions (well-known in opera circles as the most difficult composition ever) followed by those of the characters Pamina and Sarastro. There is something very touching, light, and a ‘music that fills your heart’ feel to a Mozart piece, that makes it stand out. This one lives up to it. Mozart’s operatic work is known for musical brilliance but it also touches broader social issues of his time. The Magic Flute looks at human interactions – how quickly we judge people, how trust builds relationships, our inability to look beyond external appearances, the need to move towards a higher calling, etc.,
The presentation of the opera, the movements and emotions of the characters, and the overall feel is a tad melancholic, though the music never dips to total melancholy even in the most emotional moments. A huge revolving set representing a temple facade (looks more like a house without a ceiling) dominates the stage. Most of the action happens around it and some inside it. Sen Guo, who plays the Queen of the Night, has a brilliant entry, commanding stage presence, fantastic voice and puts up a performance that lingers on in one’s memory.
The character of Sarastro and the other priests look more like civil engineers, and there is a point in the Opera where they actually are looking into what looks like a blueprint. This depiction along with Tamino’s tribulations to enter the Temple, the destruction of darkness (the Queen of the Night) the use of the number three (three ladies, three priests, three spirits) all point to a thinly veiled reference to the Freemasons (Mozart and Schikaneder were members of the Freemasonry).
Freemasonry or not, ‘The Magic Flute’ stands out for the lofty philosophical message in its underlying layers, but what it stands out most for, is the music – Mozart is a class apart!
Image credits: Hans Jörg Michel
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