Well, there’s nothing else that I could possibly write about for today. We’re going back to 1791, notable for being the last year of Mozart’s life. However, his death doesn’t come until December (and we will cover it then), but today it is the premiere of his last opera, The Magic Flute.
The Magic Flute, or Die Zauberflote in the original German, was set in the singspiel style, including both singing and spoken dialogue, and uses a libretto written by Emanuel Schikeneder. It was premiered at the Freihaus-theatre auf der Weiden. It proved to be one of his most popular operas, achieving its 100th performance in November 1792, almost a year after the composers death.
Mozart wrote this opera for performance with Schikender’s theatrical troupe. Schikender himself played the role of Papageno, while Mozart’s sister-in-law, Josepher Hoefer. As such, the written parts of the roles vary greatly. The roles of Papageno and Monostatos, originally played by comic actors, have much simpler vocal lines, often introduced by the strings, and doubled by the winds so that they could find their notes. The Queen of the Night, first played by Mozart’s sister-in-law, didn’t need this help, and as such the vocal line is much more difficult, virtuosic, and the accompaniment is barer, allowing the vocalist to shine. The Queen of the Night’s aria “Der Holle Rache kocht in meinem Heren” is particularly difficult, reaching the heights of vocal lines that were rarely reached in those days.
The opera consists of The Queen of the Night encouraging the Young Prince Tamino to rescue her daughter, the Princess Pamina from the power of Sarastro. Tamino finds Sarastro to be a man of admirable wisdom and mildness, and becomes a disciple, parting the lovers. The Queen plots with Sarastro’s servant to overthrow him, but fails. But, like in all good fairy tales, the two lovers eventually end up back together.
Once again, YouTube has come to the rescue, with Northwestern University’s performance of The Magic Flute available complete (seperated into Act 1 and 2) available. However, being 2 hours 15 in total, it might not be ideal for everyone to watch (though if you’ve got the time, I do recommend it). For those without that time, I give you two extracts, both with Sir Colin Davis conducting. The first is the overture, which features many of the themes that you would hear in the opera. It also has some of the people involved with the Royal Opera production of this talking about the opera, and some snippets of the performance – a great introduction to this piece. Then we take Diana Damrau’s performance from the same production of the Queen of the Night’s famous aria. The last two are Act 1 and 2 of Northwestern University’s 2005 performance.
Hope you enjoyed them. I’d love to hear your thoughts on these performances, who you’ve heard perform this opera, or what your favourite Mozart opera is. Drop me a comment, or write in your own blog about it linking here and I’ll include a link back below.