Simanaitis Says

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MOZART’S DIE ZAUBERFLÖTE, The Magic Flute, is an opera that has been magical in many ways. When it premiered in 1791, it was a linguistic breakaway that also spilled the beans, albeit with respect, on Freemason rituals. The opera has had artistic interpretations from the likes of David Hockney and Julie Taymor. Taymor’s production is a holiday offering at the Met’s HD theater presentations later this month.

Die Zauberflöte has become a popular opera for kids, right up there with Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel. And, on a personal note, The Magic Flute gave me a sweet memory of the Michigan Opera Theatre and some Detroit high school kids.


A Die Zauberflöte playbill for its premiere, September 30, 1791, Vienna.

Mozart and his librettist Emanuel Schikaneder fashioned Die Zauberflöte as a Singspiel, a song play with singing and spoken dialogue. Unlike most operas of the period, it was not in Italian, but Mozart’s native German.

Schikaneder was the era’s equivalent of a vaudevillian and in the original production he played the opera’s comedic role of Papageno, a bird catcher. His pal is Tamino, a prince from a distant land. The love interests are Pamina, daughter of the Queen of the Night, and, Papagena, masquerading as a crone but….  (You can guess who goes with whom.)


At left, Papageno as shown on the front page of the libretto’s original edition. Middle, Tamino as envisioned by David Hockney, this and other Hockney images from hockneypictures. At the right, Pamina as imagined by Julie Taymor, this and other Taymor images from magicfluteatthemet.

It’s fun to think of Zauberflöte as a late 18th-century Road to …, with Tamino/Bing Crosby, Papageno/Bob Hope and Pamina/Dorothy Lamour. The plot is that old standby, boy meets girl/boy loses girl/boy finds girl, aided by the subtleties of Masonic ritual.


Sarastro’s Kingdom as pictured by David Hockney.

Mozart and Schikaneder were Masonic lodge brothers; this, at a time when a tension existed between this largely secret organization and the Roman Catholic Church, Austria’s predominant religion.

The Magic Flute was not without controversy in this. Ruler Sarastro, rich in Masonic trappings, might be a bad guy at first, but ultimately he’s good. In some interpretations, the evil Queen of the Night (Pamina’s mom) represents the Roman Catholic Church.

The Queen gets the best aria, though, likely because this role was sung by the most accomplished singer in the original cast. By contrast, Mozart offered the others little musical aids of pitch and pacing.


Taymor’s puppetry. Here, Tamino confronts giant bears.

Our boys are challenged with trials to earn the affections of their respective BFFs. (Spoiler alert!) The final challenge involves Tamino and Pamina trusting the tootling of his magic flute, die zauberflöte, to get them through the Trial by Fire.


Hockney’s Trial by Fire.

All ends happily, of course. As it will in a Saturday matinee, December 12, 2015, when the Metropolitan Opera presents The Magic Flute as part of its HD Live productions in movie theaters around the world.


Tamino tunes up for the Met HD’s Magic Flute Saturday matinee, December 12, 2015. (Note: The Met videos work fine on my PC, but fail to load on my mobile.)

Unlike others of the HD series, this one isn’t live, it’s the Taymor production from the Met’s 2004-2005 season. This Magic Flute is an abridged version, 100 minutes in length and sung in English, but charming nonetheless.


The Magic Flute An Opera in Two Acts, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, fully illustrated by George Thompson, introduced by Bernard Haitink, Pagoda Books, Simon & Schuster, 1987.

The Royal Opera House of Covent Garden published The Magic Flute, sort of an English Manga graphic novel. It’s illustrated by George Thompson, with pages of text accompanied by others with cartoon balloons of dialogue paralleling the opera’s English translation.



Papageno’s crone is transformed into Papagena, but matters are not resolved yet. Pamina is consoled by three helpful lads. Images from The Magic Flute.

During one of my Detroit trips, I was able to combine business with pleasure in attending a Magic Flute production of the Michigan Opera Theatre. I scored a great seat, first tier, front row, center, and found myself amidst high-school kids.


I complimented my tiermates for their operatic enthusiasm. Perhaps prematurely. After the intermission, my portion of the first tier consisted of two young ladies sitting next to me. They confessed they got caught up in the story, even after attendance was taken. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays, 2015ont


  1. Gene Herbert
    December 7, 2015

    Dennis, thank you for connecting with the classics. Always enjoy your takes. I recall a 1960’s R. & T. article on the Acropolis Rally; titled ‘Ode Upon a Grecian Turn.’ A clever way to make one remember the article for a long time.

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