One of the most-performed operas in the world, The Magic Flute (Die Zauberflöte, K. 620) is an opera in two acts composed in 1791 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Mozart was persuaded to write the music by his friend Emanuel Schikaneder, an actor, singer, dancer, playwright, director, and impresario, whose theatre company churned out light comedies, farces and spectacles for middle class Viennese audiences. Schikaneder wrote the libretto for Die Zauberflöte, creating the story out of a hodge-podge of plays, romances, fairy tales, and Masonic lore. He probably didn't expect it to do more than make a bit of money and keep the audience amused. In his eyes it was just another Singspiel (a popular form of German play, usually comic, that included spoken dialogue interspersed with songs).
The opera premiered in Vienna on September 30, 1791. Mozart conducted the orchestra. Schikaneder played Papageno, while the role of the Queen of the Night was sung by Mozart's sister-in-law Josepha Hofer. It was immensely popular. Mozart wrote his wife Constanze a week later: I have this moment returned from the opera, which was as full as ever. As usual the duet 'Mann und Weib' and Papageno's glockenspiel in Act I had to be repeated and also the trio of the boys in Act II. But what always gives me most pleasure is the silent approval! You can see how this opera is becoming more and more esteemed.
The Magic Flute was Mozart's last opera; he fell ill and died just over two months after its premiere, but the work remains perhaps the most beloved legacy of this great composer. Mozart added to the comedy and fantasy of the Singspiel genre a new profundity that influenced German music and opera for generations.
Beethoven called The Magic Flute Mozart's greatest work, for therein he for the first time reveals himself as a German master. And Beethoven thought enough of the music that he wrote two sets of variations for cello and piano, one on Papageno`s aria Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen and the other set on Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen," another delightful aria sung by Papageno in the opera.
That colossus of German opera, Richard Wagner, said of Die Zauberflöte, What celestial magic prevails in this work from the most popular melody to the most sublime hymn! What variety, what manysidedness! ... In truth, genius has here made almost too great a giant-step; for in creating German opera, Mozart at the same time gave us the most perfect masterwork of its kind, which cannot possibly be surpassed, nay, whose genre cannot even be enlarged and developed.
The Magic Flute almost defines a masterpiece, because it can be enjoyed on every level. It is a superb fairy story, complete with dragons, demons, a handsome prince, and a lovely maiden seriously in need of rescue; it is a political satire, social commentary, and psychological drama; it is full of tunes from the playful to the heart-stopping, jolly songs, and deeply spiritual outpourings. It is, in short, ' Mozart' - and there is no greater compliment than that. (Naxos)
Perhaps the most succinct comment on its greatness came from Neville Cardus, a great English critic and long-time writer for the Manchester Guardian, best known for his writing on music and cricket. He said, The opera ... is the only one in existence that might conceivably have been composed by God.
This production is generously supported by a gift from David H. Flaherty