Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart composed the score for The Magic Flute using the libretto written by Emanuel Schikaneder. While this piece is highly accessible to those new to opera, it has layers of complexity both in terms of music and concept.
What begins as a deceptively simple conflict between good and evil turns into an examination of prejudices that occurs for the characters and the audience. Tamino, a young prince, takes up the quest, posed by the Queen of the Night, to rescue her daughter Pamina from the evil Sarastro, who has kidnapped and imprisoned the princess. Ultimately, however, both Tamino and Pamina find enlightenment in Sarastro’s community and are initiated, turning away from the queen and the darkness of ignorance.
This opera contains many references to Freemasonry, a fraternal organization that counted a multitude of Enlightenment figures as members–including several founding fathers of the United States. Mozart and Schikaneder were both Masons, and they use Sarastro’s realm symbolically to elevate Freemasonry above the darkness and superstition of the Catholic church, personified by the Queen of the Night.
Pamino’s simple-minded sidekick, a birdcatcher named Papageno, serves as an entertaining counterweight to the high-minded pursuit of enlightenment. He merely wants good food and wine–and most importantly, a pretty wife. After the elevated characters of Tamino and Pamina emerge, protected from all danger by the Magic Flute, from their trials in the Temple of the Ordeal, lowly Papageno finds his bride, Papagena.
In the end, a traitor to Sarastro flees to exile in the dark forest, and light prevails over darkness.
Not only do I find the music of this opera enchanting, but I also receive sobering reminders of what will always impede me in my pursuit to grow internally. Certainly, no one can be one hundred percent Tamino, but I am at least fifty-one percent Papageno. A significant part of my being has his orientation to life, and true to that reality, I enjoy Papageno’s musical numbers much more than I do Tamino’s.
Idealism, still, is not lost on me. Despite my two divorces, a duet between Papageno and Pamina extolling the perfect union between a husband and a wife makes me melt every time.
But, of course, Papageno is singing half of it.
Particularly for children, The Magic Flute is a charming and engaging introduction to the world of opera. Here are some highlights:
Papageno, “Der Vogelfänger bin ich ja”:
Pamina and Papageno, “Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen”:
Queen of the Night, “Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen”:
Papagena and Papageno, “Pa-Pa-Pa-”:
Photo credit: The Toronto Star