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.