Oil painting by Barbara Krafft, Salzburg, 1819.
"The wicked Queen of the Night, who persecutes the young hero and heroine, is Maria Theresia. The evil spirits who encourage her to do so are the Catholic Church. The all-wise, just and beneficial ruler Sarastro, punishing the wicked and protecting the good, is Joseph II, or any other well-meaning autocrat who protected the Freemasons."1
Mozarts Magic Flute
WHEN READING ABOUT one of the most celebrated operas in the history of the genre, it is interesting to note that many of the reference sources available dealing with that work can only begin to fathom its complexities. The complexities themselves are often the reason such a work is so mystifying through the ages; and any explanation of the said work is often guarded by those who created the spectacle initially.
In the case of Mozarts 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."
Goethes statement is revealing, as it points to an inner circle of beliefs and philosophies that may be the very core of The Magic Flutes libretto and music. Behind Goethes statement lies an even deeper question to ponder: Who are the "initiates" and what is the higher meaning of The Magic Flute under the guise of Free-Masonry?
In order to answer the above questions with any sensibility, one must become more personally involved with those we can immediately identify as "initiated." The answers to the questions above seem to lead us invariably to Emanuel Schickaneder, whose libretto for The Magic Flute has multiple implications as well as now-known beliefs involving free-masonry.
Schikaneders proposal of The Magic Flute came at a time when Mozart was quite prolific in several genres: dance music, the piano concerto in Bb major (K.595, his last) a string quartet, the Eb quintet, works for mechanical clock as well as several songs to name a few. Mozarts relationship with Schikaneder is traced to around 1780, and the proposal to write an opera for Schikaneders theater was both fiscally and musically in Mozarts best interest.
Schikaneders libretto has varied sources, and the interpolation of the sources themselves could certainly contribute to the plots initial inaccessibility. Most research regarding the incipient plot for The Magic Flute can be traced to Jakob August Liebeskinds "Lulu oder Die Zauberflote," which was published in Christoph Martin Wielands collection of fairy tales, Dschinnistan. (1786-1789) Loosely translated, Wielands collection contains "selected tales of fairies and spirits, partly newly invented, partly newly translated and revised." Dschinnistan inspired other works as well, including Mullers "Kaspar der Fagottist" and Benedict Schacks "Der Stein der Weisen." Schikaneder also had cognizance of Phillip Hafners play "Megara," dating from 1763. Magara contributed to some of the magical fairy tale elements so closely intertwined within the seriousness of The Magic Flute. Ritualistic elements, including the ancient Egyptian setting can be traced to Jean Terrassons novel, Sethos, dating from 1731.
The Enlightenment and Schikaneders Free-Masonry
Masonic opera was not a new idea in Mozarts enlightened city of Vienna. Several years before the appearance of The Magic Flute, Lorenzo DaPonte had assisted the librettist Mazzola with the Masonic opera "Osiris," written by Johann Gottlieb Naumann. Naumanns opera has some traceable similarities to Flute, if not musically, then Masonically. Test scenes for Osiris used Egypt as its setting, and the struggle between good and evil was at the forefront of the libretto itself.
Although it is accepted that Schikaneder wrote the libretto for Mozarts opera, there has been some dispute about The Magic Flutes authorship. Schikaneders wayward career and lack of any long-standing membership in any Masonic lodge may have fueled the suspect tales of false-authorship. In 1849, rumors were rife that Johann Georg Metzler (known as Giesecke) may have been responsible for the actual libretto. Julius Cornet, a tenor and opera director, published "Die Oper in Deutschland und das Theater der Neuzeit," (1849) which stated that Giesecke wrote the libretto. The information was supplied to Cornet by Giesecke himself, so it is largely circumstantial and doesn't seem to warrant any further support.
Schikaneders standing within Free-Masonry was altogether haphazard to say the least. Research done by Brother Dr. Bernhard Beuer of Bayreuth traces Schikaneders life as a Mason. Beuers work states that Schikaneder entered "the craft" for worldly reasons, and was certainly not above anything scandalous or unethical, providing it was profitable. Schikaneders letters petitioning admission to the Masons shows his need for membership in a vagrant way:
Love, Forgiveness, Tolerance and the Brotherhood of Man
"Deeply revered gentlemen, Not curiosity or selfishness but the most sincere esteem of your exalted assembly motivates by most humble prayer for admission to your sanctuary from which, in spite of the greatest secrecy, radiates a glimmer of nobility, humanity and wisdom. Enlighten me by your wise teachings, make me in your image, and I will remain with warmest thanks,
Schikaneders letter is revealing, and shows his need for acceptance to a formal organization. The short letter also highlights his ability to stress (or at least react to) the dramatic element and self-promotion; certainly two character traits found in his Papageno.
Singspiel, Opera Comique, Opera Buffa
One of the more intriguing elements of The Magic Flute is its roots in the Singspiel tradition on the one hand, and the operas ability to move itself outside of that same tradition on the other. Indeed, the opera has never left the active repertoire, and perhaps the proper blend of thematic, formal and musical elements could serve as testimony to its long-standing success.
"Singspiel" as a formal approach to opera-theater has long been associated with the German language. "Singspiel" as a word however, has been loosely translated. Singspiel is generally accepted as the German equivalent to the French Opera Comique. Ironically, Opera Comique has been invariably linked to the French, yet both Singspiel and Opera Comique take their cues from the Italian roots of Opera Buffa.
Singspiel was one of the reactions against opera seria and opera buffa, but for different reasons: opera seria had all but died by the end of the eighteenth century. The opera seria audience was ever-smaller, and the patricians seemed to be the only ones interested in the stationary nature of the stories. Opera buffa suffered a similar fate, yet it was for quite the opposite reason. Italian opera buffa became a revolving door of deceived lovers and cowardly dilettantes. The critics are suspiciousthey've seen the show before.
Singspiel was, in Flutes case, to be equated more with the opera-comique tradition. Mozarts reference of the opera-comique tradition combined with the lyric theater could be traced to Jean-Jacques Rousseaus "Le Devin du village." The work dates from 1752 and sets a prototype within the genre. Works such as Philidors "Le Jardinier et son seigneur," (1761) Monsignys "Le Deserteur," (1762) and Dalayracs "Nina" (1786) brought the genre through a genesis that no longer existed solely to amuse. Opera-comique now aimed to make the audience ponder the more humane and philosophical issues. Emotional content and thought-provoking plots become part of the new order, and the French opera-comique lends a springboard from which Singspiel will leap.
Mozarts Magic Flute is without question the strongest example of the Singspiel tradition composed before or since its premiere. Mozart was not new to the Singspiel tradition, and his first attempt within the genre was in 1768. Bastien et Bastienne, composed when Mozart was 12, is treated as a parody on Rousseaus "Le Devin du village." Other pre-Flute examples of Mozarts output in Singspiel include Der Schauspieldirektor, finished in 1786, the unfinished "Zaide" dating from 1780 and a certain pre-cursor to Zauberflote: "Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail."(1782) In the final vaudeville of Entfuhrung, a strong philosophical reference to the future Sarastro character is furnished: "Nothing is more odious than vengeance. On the contrary, to be humane, to have a good heart, and to pardon without ersonal resentment-that alone is characteristic of great souls."
The first performance of The Magic Flute took place on September 30, 1791 at the Theater auf de Wieden. Mozart was now a member of the New Crown Freemason Lodge, and was suspect to the Austrian emperor, a prime mover and benefactor in Mozarts compositional life. Knowing that the Masons are soon to be outlawed in Vienna, Mozart realizes that The Magic Flute is his last chance to ensure that his esoteric knowledge gained through Freemasonry reaches the rest of continental Europe. The Magic Flute must become the metaphorical journey into the Enlightenment questions and ideals that remain unanswered, yet can be through Freemasonry.
Aware of this obligation, Mozart certainly intended for the opera to be seen by the widest possible audience. The theater itself was tax-exempt and was located in a downtown collection of tenements built around six courtyards outside Vienna. It is recognized that Papagenos first audience was somewhat proletarian, but the opera was seen by a large cross-section of society. The importance of Mozarts varied audience cannot be overstated, as the cross-culture in attendance speaks volumes about the Enlightenment ideals that the opera itself exemplifies. Equality, as well as the ability of man to act compassionately are at the nerve center of Sarastros character. The nobility and wisdom associated with Sarastro has prompted much speculation about Mozarts relationship to Ignaz von Born, who was a master of Masonic symbolism and an authority respected by all Viennese Masons. The Queen of the Night, conversely, litters the stage with the passion and coloratura that clearly states her opposition to Enlightenment ideals; Perhaps this is why many scholars have equated the Queen of the night with Empress Maria Theresia. Taminos character as well has been equated with Joseph II, a liberator and Enlightenment advocate, who saw equality between the classes as well as unification and initiation between man and woman. This ideal comes to fruition when Tamino and Pamina complete their initiation together while the priests sing the chorus to Isis and Osiris. Mozart took a tremendous risk in his symbolism here, as he had to have known the consequences of what amounts to Masonic blasphemy. His ability to disguise the hierarchy of idealism in the opera certainly necessitated Papagenos character. Papageno, with his simple strophic tunes and his ability to build rapport with the "cheap seats" makes his role universal within the operas overall scope. In the case of this opera, everyone in the audience can relate to the plight of someone on the stage, which is certainly a contributing factor in the operas continued success. In a sense, the opera plays to the Opera-comique traditions, the Singspiel traditions, the Opera buffa traditions, Masonic ideals, as well as the embodiment of Enlightenment Vienna simultaneously.
Much of Mozarts Masonic music is written in the key of Eb. This key, with 3 flats is indicative of Masonic symbolism. There are other examples of the number three in the opera as well. The opening chords of the introduction sound three times, which also happens during the Temple scenes. Also represented in threes are the three temples of Wisdom, Reason and Nature. Tamino tries to open the three doors of the temple. There are three ladies, the attendants to the Queen of the Night, and three boys who serve as guides to Tamino and Papageno.
Contemporary Performance Practices
Mozarts letter to his wife dated 7 and 8 October, 1791 poses some interesting questions regarding the duration of The Magic Flute, about which almost nothing is known. Mozarts apartment is located in the Rauhensteingasse, about 20 minutes from the theater. The letter of October 7 shows that he was writing his wife by 10:30 p.m. If he walked home from the Theater and was in his apartment by 10:30, one can begin to speculate Mozarts pacing of the opera. The performance of the opera began at 7:00 pm, which is marked on the playbill. Based on the above, the spoken scenes were probably delivered at breakneck speed by todays standards. No evidence in Mozarts letters or otherwise suggests that the dialogue was shortened, as is the case today. Faster tempi in the musical sections also seems reasonable if we consider the above circumstances. Furthermore, Mozart probably did not leave the theater immediately at the end of the performance, and we know that 2 numbers were encored that evening. Taking all of these factors into account, it is fair to speculate that modern performances of The Magic Flute are much too slow. The opera performance on October 7/8, 1791 must have ended by 10:00 including intermission and the above factors. Sir Neville Marriners recording takes 2 hours, 21 minutes and 43 seconds. To hear The Magic Flute conducted by Mozart would have answered so many questions!
Mozarts last two works, The Magic Flute and the Requiem, are ironic in nature. One looks at death outside the realm of Masonic ideals, while the opera treats life with all the virtues of Masonic and Enlightenment Vienna. Mozarts last two works show a deep understanding of self. This is a noble place to be as a composer, and if Mozart was correct in saying that death is truly the goal of life, then his last two works surely represent the Mozartian musical ideals: Love, Forgiveness, Tolerance and the Brotherhood of Man.
Your most honoring and humble servant, Johann Emanuel Schikaneder"
Reprinted, with permission, from Mr. Gino L. Guarneres paper found at
An opera in two acts by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
A Synopsis of The Magic Flute
First performed at the Theater aud Der Wieden, Vienna, September 30, 1791.
Tamino endeavors to escape from a huge snake. He falls unconscious. Heeding his cries, the black garbed Ladies-in-Waiting of the Queen of the Night appear and kill the snake. The ladies sing of their joy in foiling the snake and of the good looks of the man they have rescued. They hesitantly leave him. He awakes to see a man covered in feathers dancing towards him. It is Papageno, the Queens bird catcher. Papageno tells the stunned Tamino that he is in the realm of the Queen of the Night. Upon seeing the dead snake, he boasts of his defeat of the snake. Upon utterance of the lie, the three ladies reappear and punish him by putting a padlock on his mouth. They show Tamino a miniature of a maiden, Pamina the Queen of the Nights daughter, whose beauty fills Taminos heart with love. They tell him she is a prisoner of Sarastro. No sooner does Tamino vow to free the beauty than the Queen herself materializes from the clouds. She reinforces his determination with her depiction of her desolation now that she has lost her daughter. She promises Pamina to Tamino when he sets her free. The ladies reappear and remove the padlock from Papagenos mouth and give him a set of chimes. To Tamino they give a golden flute. These instruments will enable them to escape the perils of their journey. They will also be accompanied by three Genii. The scene changes, a richly furnished apartment in Sarastros palace is disclosed. A brutal Moor, Monostatos is pursing Pamina with unwelcome advances. The bird catcher appears, Monostatos takes flight. Papageno recognizes Pamina. He advises her not to fear. She will soon be rescued by someone who has fallen in love with her. He laments that nothing like this ever happens to him. Pamina assures him that he will one day be loved.
The finale takes place in a grove. On three sides stand Temples which are dedicated to Wisdom, Reason, and Nature. This is where the three Genii have led Tamino. They leave him there with the advice to be patient, silent and preserving. Tamino decides to enter the Temples. He is refused admittance to the first two. At the third temple a priest tells him that Sarastro is not a tyrant as he has been told but a noble character of wisdom. The solemn atmosphere awakens Taminos desire for knowledge. He plays his flute. Wild animals come out from their lairs and lie at his feet. Before he can finish his aria, he hears the sound of Papagenos pan pipe and rushes off to find him. Papageno comes on from the other side of the stage leading Pamina who he intends to unite with Tamino. They are overtaken by Monostatos, who send for chains to complete the capture.
Papageno remembers a last remedy. By playing on his magic chimes, he sets the Moor and his slaves dancing. Pamina and Papageno rejoice at their escape. Trumpets and the sound of a chorus are heard. They sing praise to Sarastro. Papageno wonders what they are saying, 'the truth, friend' replies Pamina. Sarastro enters with a procession, Pamina kneels at his feet. She explains that she was trying to escape from the moor. Sarastro comforts her and assures her that he understands her predicament. Monostatos drags Tamino in, denounces him to Sarastro. Instead of reward, he is sentenced to flogging. This is the first meeting of Pamina and Tamino. They are in love. Sarastro commands them to the Temple of Ordeal where they must prove they are worthy of higher happiness.
In a grove outside the Temple, Sarastro informs the Priests of his plans. The gods have ordained that Pamina shall become Taminos bride, but only if he is worthy of admission to the Temple. Sarastro takes Pamina, under his protection. The couple must go through severe ordeals in order to be worthy of entering the Temple of Light, thus thwarting the sinister schemes of theQueen of the Night. Sarastro prays to Isis and Osiris that the two may be worthy of their goal.
The Porch of the Temple. The ordeals of Tamino and Papageno are about to begin. They are warned that they may perish in their search for the Truth. The Priests warn them of what will happen if they fail in their vow of silence. They are left alone in the darkness. The three Ladies of the Queen of the Night appear. The Ladies try to get them to abandon their quest, but they remain silent. The priests reappear and congratulate them on having passed the first test. The scene changes to a garden. Pamina is discovered lying asleep. The Moor steals towards her doing a suggestive dance. The Queen of the Night appears and flings a dagger to her daughter with the command to take the dagger and kill Sarastro. Monostatos threatens to reveal this plot (that Pamina never agreed to) if she will not give him her love. Sarastro enters just in time to hurl the Moor from the defenseless Pamina. The Moor departs with the hope that he will have better luck with the mother. Pamina pleads for mercy for her mother. Sarastro assures her that vengeance is not on his mind.
In a hall, Tamino and Papageno are again urged to keep their vigilant silence. Papageno chatters to himself, only to find himself soon involved in a conversation with an old crone who introduces herself to him as the sweetheart he is yet to meet. There is a clap of thunder, the old crone disappears, the three Genii appear. They bring with them the flute, the chimes and a table spread with food and drink. Pamina appears, unaware of the vow of silence, and is overjoyed to see Tamino again. She is distraught over his lack of response.
The scene changes to a vault. The Priests sing a solemn chorus of praise to Isis and Osiris. Sarastro confronts Pamina with Tamino and tells them to take their last farewell of each other. Papageno is told he may have one wish granted. He is left dissatisfied when he has drunk the wine he asked for. The old crone comes back to him and threatens him with dire consequences if he does not swear to be true to her. When he does swear, she reveals herself to be young and attractively feathered. Poor Papageno is warned off her by a Priest who says he is not worthy of her yet.
The three Genii are discovered in a garden singing of the symbolical joys of the rising sun, whose rays drive away the fears of the night. Not knowing she is being observed Pamina contemplates suicide. She is restrained and comforted by the Genii. Two men in armor guard the door. Tamino is brought in by the priests for the last stage of his initiation, the test of fire and water. Tamino proclaims his resolution, but for the final ordeals, he is accompanied by Pamina. He is not only overjoyed at being joined with her again but that he may speak with her freely. Paminas sufferings have produced a maturity about her. She acts as Taminos guide as they undergo successively the ordeals of fire and water. At the end, they are welcomed into the Temple by Sarastro and the Priests. Papagenos great scene of mock suicide occurs at this point, a comic trial that parallels the serious trials of Tamino and Pamina.
Before the Temple, Monostatos leads the Queen and her Ladies who are making their last bid at revenge on Sarastro. Their appearance coincides with a flood of light that drives away the forces of the night. There is a final chorus extolling the initiates.
Mirrored from Arizona Opera & Evermore Enterprises' outline found at
1. The Freemasons, Jasper Ridley. London : Robinson, 1999. ISBN: 1-84119-238-4. p. 121.