Everything you need to know about Mozart’s popular fantasy, The Magic Flute.
Who was the composer?
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
How do you know you’re listening to Mozart? The melodies are beautiful, and there are a whole lot of notes!
When Mozart lived in Salzburg, the emperor is said to have remarked of his music:
“Too beautiful for our ears, my dear Mozart, and vastly too many notes!”
To which Mozart supposedly replied, “Just as many as are necessary, your majesty!”
Mozart’s operas do include lots of decorative notes, often sung very quickly. Listen out for the Queen of the Night’s Act I aria, which practically requires vocal acrobatics.
What’s the story?
A handsome prince sets out on an adventure to rescue a damsel in distress. He takes along a cowardly but goodnatured birdcatcher, Papageno, who is more interested in finding a wife than seeking adventure.
Along the way, the Prince Tamino meets a Queen who is not as nice as she seems, and a villian by the name of Monostatos, who is just as bad as he seems.
Tamino, Papageno and the princess Pamina must all trust in the power of music to lead them through the dark and dangerous adventures ahead…
Who are the main players?
Want more? A guide to the characters in the opera can be found here.
What’s the big hit?
The Queen of the Night sings a famous aria (“The vengeance of hell boils in my heart”). In the aria, the soprano must hit a high F over and over again. It’s incredibly difficult, so the aria is a great piece for a soprano to show off their skills.
You might also know the Papageno/Papagena duet from the movie Amadeus.
Something to listen for
Mozart wrote themes for each of his characters, so you can often tell someone is coming before they reach the stage. The priest Sarastro’s music is deep, low and slow, while the Queen of the Night’s music is fast, agile and very high.
What’s new in this production?
Julie Taymor created and directed this production for the Metropolitan Opera of New York in 2005.
It is an abridged version of Mozart’s score, with a charming new English translation by J. D McClatchy. Taymor (famous for her Broadway production of The Lion King) filled her production with bright colours, giant puppets, flying birds and an impressive perspex set.
Opera Australia mounted the production for the first time in 2012, building the props and scenery in-house.
A little history
The Magic Flute was commissioned by Mozart’s friend and fellow Freemason, Emanuel Schikaneder, who owned a playhouse in Vienna. Schikaneder wrote the libretto and played Papageno. Mozart’s sister-in-law, Josepha Hofer, played the Queen of the Night.
The opera advocates many of the ideals of masonry: a belief in reason and wisdom, trials and enlightenment, and the power of music.
Mozart conducted the premiere and felt the opera was an immediate success, writing to his wife to say “But what always gives me the most pleasure is the silent approval! You can see how this opera is becoming more and more esteemed…”
Sadly, Mozart died just two months later, of a terrible illness which caused his body to swell (although conspiracy theorists throw around theories about poison, historians believe it was most likely rheumatic fever). The last piece of music he ever wrote was his famous Requiem, which he claimed to be writing for himself!
- Mozart’s full name was Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart. Truly.
- Mozart wrote a few of the roles in The Magic Flute for close friends: Tamino for Benedikt Schack, the Queen of the Night for his sister in law Josepha Hofer and Papageno for the librettist, Schikaneder
- Scientists of the Royal Society subjected a 10-yr-old Mozart to a series of tests to prove he was actually a child genius, not a skilled dwarf.
- Mozart produced over 600 works in his just 35 years, starting at the age of 5.
We re-wrote The Magic Flute as a bedtime story for children. You can read it here.
We also prepared a short listening guide, which you can watch below:
The Magic Flute is on at the Sydney Opera House from January 2 – 30, 2015. For more info and tickets, click here.