September 30, 1791 – The first performance of The Magic Flute, the last opera by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to make its debut, took place at Freihaus-Theater auf der Wieden in Vienna, Austria.
The Magic Flute (German: Die Zauberflöte), K. 620, is an opera in two acts to a German libretto by Emanuel Schikaneder. The work is in the form of a Singspiel, a popular form that included both singing and spoken dialogue.
The story of The Magic Flute focuses on the triumph of reason and virtue over irrationality and evil. This concept was important in Freemasonry, a fraternal order that was popular during the Enlightenment, and of which Mozart was a member. The opera’s plot borrows symbolism from Masonic ritual, in which members’ progress through levels of self-understanding in a personal quest for knowledge.
The Magic Flute is set in ancient Egypt. Its story centers around Tamino, a young prince who enters a quest to win the hand of the princess Pamina. To marry Pamina, Tamino must undergo a series of initiation rites (symbolic of those found in Freemasonry), which test his dedication to reason.
Throughout the story, Tamino is caught between two powerful, symbolic figures. Sarastro, the High Priest of Isis and Osiris, leads Tamino through his search for wisdom, and symbolizes the power of reason. The Queen of the Night represents irrationality. She will stop at nothing to destroy Sarastro, and tries desperately to lure Tamino and Pamina into her power.
The mood in Mozart’s The Magic Flute is often solemn, but being a great dramatist, Mozart knew his story would benefit from a little comic relief. The opera’s lightest moments come courtesy of the birdcatcher,Papageno, Tamino’s nutty sidekick. Papageno is less interested in Reason than he is in finding a wife, and one of the opera’s most charming moments comes when he’s finally united with his equally flighty soul mate, Papagena.
Shown here is a souvenir sheet issued by Germany in 1991 commemorating the opera.