Mozart’s Famous Masonic Opera – The Magic Flute

The arrival of the Queen of the Night. Stage set by Karl Friedrich Schinkel (1781–1841) for an 1815 production

Opera is not for everybody, but there are iconic pieces that have become a cultural heritage for all mankind and that are well known all over the globe. Thus, everybody knows Mozart, and if you ask people, what piece of Mozart they know best, then most times you will hear the answer ‘Die kleine Nachtmusik’ or ‘Die Zauberflöte’. On September 30, 1782, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s most famous opera, ‘Die Zauberflöte’ (The Magic Flute) premiered in Schikaneders theatre in Vienna.

The celebrated Magic Flute always was something special compared to other operas of the epoch. You might compare it to an early piece of fantasy fiction. It’s magic casts a spell over the audience and people either love it or hate it. But, most of today’s audience are not aware of all its references to freemasonry. In the case of Mozart’s opera, The Magic Flute, the Masonic traditions observed by the composer and its librettist (Emanuel Schickaneder) have prompted some of the most philosophical discussions in the annals of opera. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, a fellow free-mason, speaks to the masses outside the circle of free-masonry regarding The Magic Flute: “It is enough that the crowd would find pleasure in seeing the spectacle; at the same time, its high significance will not escape the initiates.”

The libretto to “The Magic Flute” is considered such a jumble of nonsense that it is as well to endeavour to extract some sense from it. The libretist Emanuel Johann Schikaneder was a friend of Mozart and a member of the same Masonic Lodge. He also was the manager of a theatrical company and had persuaded Mozart to compose the music to a puppet show for him. He had selected for this show the story of “Lulu“, which had appeared in a volume of Oriental tales published by Christoph Martin Wieland under the title of “Dschinnistan.” In the original tale a wicked sorcerer has stolen the daughter of the Queen of Night, who is restored by a Prince by means of magic. While Schikaneder was busy on his libretto, a fairy story by Perinet, music by Wenzel Müller, and treating of the same subject, was given at another Viennese theatre. Its great success interfered with Schikaneder’s original plan. At that time, however, freemasonry was a much discussed subject. It had been interdicted by empress Maria Theresa and armed forces were employed to break up the lodges.

As a practical man Schikaneder saw his chance to exploit the interdicted rites on the stage. Out of the wicked sorcerer he made Sarastro, the sage priest of Isis. The ordeals of Tamino and Pamina became copies of the ceremonials of freemasonry. He also laid the scene of the opera in Egypt, where freemansory believes its rites to have originated. In addition to all this Mozart’s beautiful music ennobled the libretto even in its dull and unpoetical passages, and lent to the whole a touch of the mysterious and sacred. Because of its supposed relation to freemasonry, commentators have identified the vengeful Queen of the Night with Maria Theresa, and Tamino with the Emperor. Pamina, Papageno, and Papagena are set down as types of the people, and Monostatos as the fugleman of monasticism.

Mozart wrote on “The Magic Flute” from March until July and in September, 1791. September, 1791. September 30, two months before his death, the first performance was given. Mozart himself conducted the orchestra, Schikaneder played Papageno, while the role of the Queen of the Night was sung by Mozart’s sister-in-law Josepha Hofer. Right from the start the opera was a big success:

“Although there were no reviews of the first performances, it was immediately evident that Mozart and Schikaneder had achieved a great success, the opera drawing immense crowds and reaching hundreds of performances during the 1790s.” (Maynard Solomon)

At yovisto you can listen to a lively introduction into Mozart’s Magic Flute opera from San Diego Opera talk.

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