Mozart’s The Magic Flute: A Masonic Opera

Mozart - the magic flute - a masonic opera narrated by Maestro James Meena Mozart’s The Magic Flute is universally recognized as being a masterpiece among masterpieces. This opera is an allegorical tale, not a fairy tale, and uses symbols to express truths about the human spirit. The overarching theme is: Harmony in human society can only be realized by the perfect union of man and woman, characterized by an equality that is achieved through pure love, strength of character, and the rituals of Freemasonry.

Mozart, like many of the Founding Fathers of the United States, was a Freemason. In the late 18th century, Freemasonry was considered a radical movement, aligned with the free thinkers of the Enlightenment. It was a threat to the aristocracy and established religion and, as such, was suppressed by the nobility and Vatican.

The opera is set in two polar opposite kingdoms: The Kingdom of Night – symbolized by the moon and the color silver, and ruled by the Queen of the Night. The Queen represents the Austrian empress Maria Theresa who oppressed Masonic Lodges. The Kingdom of the Temple of the Wisdom is symbolized by the sun and the color gold, and is led by the High Priest Sarastro who represents Ignaz von Born, leader of the Vienna Masonic Lodge of which Mozart was a member. These two kingdoms will only be reconciled by the union of opposing kingdom prince and princess Tamino and Pamina, respectively, and the victory of the sun (enlightenment) over the moon (the established order).

When we first meet Tamino he is running in fear from a serpent that represents his irrational ignorance of the Masonic Order. He is then lied to by the Queen to the Night and sent off to rescue her daughter Pamina from Sarastro. The rest of the opera is occupied by Tamino and Pamina finding pure love and enduring the Masonic trials of self-discipline through silence. They are ultimately purified by the basic elements of fire and water. Once they have successfully gone through these trials, Sarastro gives them the shield of the sun to be wise and benevolent rulers.

And why a magic flute? A common Masonic theme is that music has the power to transcend human fear and hatred. So, the moral of the story is that through the Masonic Order and guided by the beauty of music, society is enlightened – men and women equally.

The most memorable character in The Magic Flute is Papageno the birdcatcher, who was created to entertain the audience and further obscure the Masonic messaging of the plot. For the opera’s premier performances, the role of Papageno was played by actor Emanuel Schikaneder. Schikaneder was also the librettist for The Magic Flute and the owner of Teatre on Der Wien where the work premiered. Papageno is an Everyman and endures his own set of trials, at which he fails miserably. Yet, the kindly gods provide him a beautiful young wife and our Everyman couple populate the world with many little Papagenos and Papagenas. It’s a bit of a cynical comment that while there are few Taminos and Paminas, there are many Papagenos and Papagenas.

But why not just come out and say all of this? Well, remember that at the time of Mozart, Freemasonry was under a Papal bull of condemnation, and suppressed by the nobility. It was not only unfashionable, but potentially dangerous to be a Freemason. As you enjoy the delightfully brilliant music of Mozart in The Magic Flute, keep in mind the philosophical journey toward enlightenment that is shared by Tamino and Pamina.

Opera Grand Rapids’ production of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Magic Flute is being performed, in English, October 26th and 27th at DeVos Performance Hall. The production stars acclaimed artists John Viscardi as the comic Papageno and Jana McIntyre as the star-blazing Queen of the Night, with the Opera Grand Rapids Chorus and the Grand Rapids Symphony under the baton of Artistic Director, Maestro James Meena.

Initiation ceremony in a Viennese Masonic Lodge, during reign of Joseph II. The inside of what is thought to be the lodge New Crowned Hope (Zur Neugekrönten Hoffnung) in Vienna. It is believed that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is depicted at the extreme right, sitting next to his close friend Emanuel Schikaneder. Painting by Ignaz Unterberger (1748-1797) Click here to learn more.

Taste buds: Meet Love’s new flavor in honor of Rigoletto.

Stop whatever you’re doing and go try Love’s Ice Cream’s new, limited-time-only flavor in honor of Rigoletto.

Sacrifire and Ice

Opera Grand Rapids and Love’s Ice Cream have collaborated to release a new small-batch ice cream flavor in celebration of Opera Grand Rapids’ upcoming production of Rigoletto this weekend.

Rigoletto, the court jester, is known to mock those that fall victim to the Duke’s seductive advances. When the Duke sets his eyes upon Rigoletto’s own carefully-hidden daughter, Gilda, the jester vows to have revenge, but a curse is cast upon him. Tragedy strikes when the vulnerable young maiden becomes a helpless pawn in her father’s quest for vengeance.

The limited release ice cream offers two flavors in one unique presentation! Sacrifire & Ice features a golden floral mint ring (mint and geranium) signifying Gilda, her world being the cool, delicate and sheltered contrast to the Duke’s. Gilda means “sacrifice” but also means “golden”. The spicy black fennel core is a stark contrast, representing the Duke’s gritty, nefarious world, and the inevitable fate of the curse on Rigoletto. Learn more about the story of Rigoletto.

For a limited time only, Sacrifire & Ice is available at the Love’s Ice Cream store in the Downtown Market. Don’t miss your chance to get a taste before it runs out!

For more information on Love’s Ice Cream and their flavors, visit

Opera Grand Rapids and Love’s Ice Cream began partnering in 2014 to offer specialty ice cream flavors in honor of each opera production. Take a look back at some of their previous creations below!

A healthy extra dark chocolate flavor “The Darkest Depths of Hellth” for Orpheus and Eurydice.
Contrasting ingredients meet in “Fortune’s Fool” flavor inspired by Romeo and Juliet.
“Madcap Figaro!” includes Madcap coffee ice cream with a hidden fig-orange swirl, perfect for the madcap opera, The Barber of Seville.
Spicy yet sweet, “Orange Habanera” inspired by Georges Bizet’s Carmen
“Red Light Tango-rine” flavor for Astor Piazolla’s Maria de Buenos Aires.


October 13 & 14  |  7:30 PM  |  DeVos Performance Hall


Italian grand opera at its finest.

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Opera from the orchestra pit

When most people think of opera, they think of the singers on the stage. However, in an opera, the orchestra plays an equally important role. Grand Rapids Symphony musicians Barbara Corbató, Assistant Principal Viola, and Alexander Miller, Assistant Principal Oboe, understand this well.

“The orchestra and voices on stage are so dependent on each other. As artists, we all have a great love of and dedication to the art form,”Corbató said.

Barbara Corbató; Photo: Terry Johnston | Grand Rapids Symphony

Miller, who played his first opera at The Metropolitan Opera while attending The Julliard School in New York City, enjoys the extra element of musical storytelling and action on the stage that the opera offers. “I wouldn’t ever want to play in an orchestra that never got to do an opera.”

An opera production requires that the orchestra musicians approach each performance differently than they would a symphonic concert.

“Playing an opera is like running a marathon in terms of focus and physical endurance. When an act begins, we are completely focused until each act ends, sometimes up to ninety minutes later. And then after intermission, we come back to do it again,” Corbató said. “On opera days, I have to plan my day so that I don’t over practice or play too much so that I have good endurance for the rehearsal or performance.”

For Miller, the ability to use abstract thinking is important when playing in the pit. Because the musicians cannot directly see what’s happening on the stage, they rely on the conductor to guide them. “You’re not going to be able to sit down and know exactly what’s happening in every bar, just because there’s so much dealing with the action on the stage.”

Collectively, Miller and Corbató have over 50 years of experience performing with Opera Grand Rapids as part of the Grand Rapids Symphony. Through the years, they have racked up some entertaining stories. Perhaps the best story is how Miller began his career performing in opera.

Alexander Miller; Photo: Terry Johnston | Grand Rapids Symphony

“The very first time I got to play at The Met, it was a very last minute substitute, like eight minutes before curtain,” said Miller.

The slotted oboist was stuck in traffic on the Holland Tunnel. After being asked the question “How fast can you get in a tuxedo,” Miller found himself buttoning his shirt in the elevator and sprinting into the pit.

“The first thing was an oboe entrance in the overture to Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. I played the entire first act before the second oboist arrived. What a crazy way to make an entrance!”

Corbató’s best memory wasn’t from the pit, but rather from the stage at Opera Grand Rapids’ 1996 production of Rigoletto.

“One of the fun times that I had, I think it was Rigoletto, I did the onstage string quartet. We had to play up to a certain point in the pit and then race up to the stage to get in place to play on stage, getting on stage in time and then getting back down to the pit to play. We were in quite in a hurry. It was really fun to play on stage with the set.”

About Barbara Corbató

Barbara Corbató is currently Assistant Principal Viola of the Grand Rapids Symphony, where she has performed since 1990 and is also a member of the GRS’ Calder String Quintet. In addition, she is an active chamber musician- a member of the Perugino String Quartet since 2007, and performing regularly at the Chamber Music Festival of Saugatuck. Ms. Corbató also is active as a viola teacher, serving on the viola faculties at Hope College while also maintaining a home studio. She also has taught viola at Aquinas and Calvin College.

Ms. Corbató grew up in Columbus, Ohio, then attended the University of Michigan, where she received Bachelor and Master of Music degrees in Viola Performance. Before moving to Grand Rapids, she performed in the New World Symphony of Miami, Florida, the Spoleto Festival of South Carolina and Italy, and the orchestras of Columbus, Flint, and Saginaw. She has also participated in music festivals in Santa Barbara and Aspen.

About Alexander Miller

Alexander Miller, who splits his time equally between composing and performing on oboe, has written many large orchestral works including “Fireworks,” performed in Carnegie Hall for the Grand Rapids Symphony’s 75th anniversary, “Let Freedom Ring,” which has been narrated by James Earl Jones, Danny Glover and former president Bill Clinton, “Encaustic,” a clarinet concerto depicting wax painting, “Madame Bovary,” a cello concerto inspired by Flaubert’s impossible dreamer, and his recent “Rocomoji,” a modern concerto grosso that takes a serious look at the emoji phenomenon.

His music has been hailed as “stunning” (American Harp Society), “otherworldly” (Tacoma News Tribune), “engaging and energetic” (Modesto News), and anything from “magnificent,” “haunting” and “imaginative” to “intricate” and “sly and whimsical” (Grand Rapids Press). About his orchestral tone puzzle “Scherzo Crypto,” a senior critic at the San Antonio Express-News wrote that his “vibrant, propulsive” music “recalled in some ways the best mid-20th century American symphonists.” When he was a resident composer at the 2016 Cabrillo Music Festival with Marin Alsop, called him “clever, unique – a composer with something of Alan Turing within him.” Arts and Culture Texas Magazine delivered a rave review of the world premiere of “Rocomoji,” calling it “brilliant … you have to hear it to believe it. Miller’s writing is deliciously evocative, imaginative, and humorous.” Most of his commissions and premieres have originated in Grand Rapids, where the Grand Rapids Press has called him “Assistant Principal Oboist by title, Composer-in-Residence by default.”

Miller was born in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan in 1968 to an art-loving mother and an auto executive father, then spent his childhood living in Mexico, Australia and Venezuela before returning to Michigan for high school. He completed his musical training at The Juilliard School in New York and holds B.M. and M.M. degrees in oboe performance. Shortly after graduating in 1992, he won the national audition for Assistant Principal Oboe with the Grand Rapids Symphony.

In addition to his orchestral duties, Miller is an oboist, conductor and composer with Ensemble Montage, a chamber group dedicated to performing the myriad challenging works of the past century. He also plays with the Wünderwind Quintet and travels to elementary schools to teach children about the basic elements of building music.

In 2009, Miller received the diagnosis of a rare recurring brain tumor that forced him to undergo two brain surgeries followed by a long rehabilitation. Working his way back to a life of performing and composing is his proudest accomplishment, and he blogs about his experiences as a patient regularly, stressing the importance of humor and honesty as a path to healing. He is married to Grand Rapids Symphony violist Mary Jane Miller and they enjoy life together with their poodle, JoJo. His other interests include mushroom hunting, puzzles, modern art, aviation, and wine.


Figaro gets his own ice cream flavor

Opera Grand Rapids teams up with Love’s Ice Cream (yet again) to unveil a new ice cream flavor in celebration of Opera Grand Rapids’ upcoming production of The Barber of Seville.

Inspired by The Barber of Seville’s title character–the ever-wacky, madcap barber, Figaro–the flavor features Madcap coffee ice cream swirled with a Seville orange and Fig jam. Meet the Madcap Figaro!, available for a limited time only at the Love’s Ice Cream store in the Downtown Market. The specialty flavor is available from now until May 13. Don’t miss your chance to get a taste!

For more information on Love’s Ice Cream, visit

Opera Grand Rapids and Love’s Ice Cream began partnering in 2014 to bring you specialty ice cream flavors in honor of each opera production. Take a look back at the previous creations below!

A healthy extra dark chocolate flavor “The Darkest Depths of Hellth” for Orpheus and Eurydice.
Contrasting ingredients meet in “Fortune’s Fool” flavor inspired by Romeo and Juliet.
The Student Prince tenor Justin John Moniz tastes “Three Golden Apples” ice cream flavor.
Spicy yet sweet, “Orange Habanera” inspired by Georges Bizet’s Carmen
“Red Light Tango-rine” flavor for Astor Piazolla’s Maria de Buenos Aires.