Mozart: The Magic Flute
The universal appeal of Mozart’s Singspiel (a popular art-form of the day which combines singing and dialogue) was captured in Ingmar Bergman’s 1975 film version: it showed an audience of children and adults paying rapt attention to an apparently simple, yet deeply allegorical story. Flute draws on the Masonic interests of Mozart and his librettist Emanuel Schikaneder, and on Enlightenment philosophy.
These elements form a background to the colliding worlds of a lonesome, low-life birdcatcher (Papageno), a prince and princess (Tamino and Pamina), and their shared paths to self-discovery and happiness through various trials at the hands of two charismatic but ambiguous characters: Temple cult-leader Sarastro, represents the rule of wisdom and reason, while his sworn enemy, the Queen of the Night, exploits superstition and can draw on powerful magic. Sarastro sees brave, lovestruck Tamino as a potential member of his priesthood; the Queen of the Night sees her daughter Pamina as an instrument to wreak revenge on Sarastro; Papageno is merely looking for his ‘Papagena’ and the chance to start a family. For him, the trials are simple ones, like keeping his mouth shut; but Tamino and Pamina have to find wisdom through trials of fire and water – assisted by the magic flute of the title, which has protective powers to charm beasts and change men’s hearts.
Mozart assigns each set of characters their own instantly recognisable music: pan-pipes for Papageno; lyrical love music for Tamino and Pamina; sonorous, ritualistic brass for Sarastro and the priests; and stratospherically acrobatic coloratura for the borderline hysterical Queen – there is nothing quite like The Magic Flute for combining the simplicity of pantomime with the sophistication of grand opera.
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