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woensdag 30 september 2020

THOMSON, Ian, The Magic Flute Libretto: More Literary, Religious and Historical Sources and their Interpretation

 THOMSON, Ian, The Magic Flute Libretto: More Literary, Religious and Historical Sources

and their Interpretation (Lewiston: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2014), xvi + 439 pp.,

including illustrative plates (some colour), £140, Hbk, ISBN: 9780773400597.






Table of Contents

Acknowledgements
Abbreviations
List of illustrations
Other artworks mentioned in the text
A calendar of relevant events
A summary of the onstage drama
References to Acts and Scenes
Translation notes

Introduction

Chapter 1: Viennese origins
Chapter 2: A commentary on critical opinion to date
Chapter 3: A new approach
Chapter 4: The underworld drama and Tamino’s virtue
Chapter 5: The significance of Papageno and Papagena
Chapter 6: Tamino’s alignment with the Christ-figure
Chapter 7; The Implication of chivalric sources
Chapter 8: The basis of conflict between Sarastro and the Queen
Chapter 9: The roman à clef: necessary background
Chapter 10: Part A: The Queen
Part B: Pamina and Tamino
Part C: Sarastro
Part D: Monostatos
Part E: Papageno and Papagena
Chapter 11: The alchemic process in the roman à clef
Chapter 12: The opera’s republican purpose
Chapter 13: The librettists and the development of the libretto
Chapter 14: Some implications
Epilogue
Annex A: An English translation of the Playbill for the first performance
Bibliography
Name Index
General Index
Illustrations
 

 Reviewed by: Andrew Pink, Independent Scholar, London, UK.

 Email: agpink01@gmail.com

The opera Die Zauberflöte (‘The Magic Flute’) was composed in 1791 by Wolfgang

Amadeus Mozart (1756–91) for Vienna’s relatively short-lived Theater auf der Wieden.

It was Mozart’s last composition for the opera stage. The theatre’s raison d’être was

to appeal to a broad public by staging entertaining musical repertoire with a heavy

reliance on spectacle, lavishly combining substantial musicalresources with dramatic

mise-en-scène such as flying machines, trapdoors, thunder, spectacular lighting,

fires and waterfalls. The staging of The Magic Flute made full use of such resources

and the opera was an immediate success, not only in Vienna but also across Europe.

By 1800 it had already been performed in 58 cities in nine European countries. In

the original word-book it was mischievously described as a grand opera suggesting

a serious dramatic work without spoken dialogue, when in fact it was firmly fixed

in the German-language tradition of ‘Singspiel’, in which spoken dialogue is mixed

with sung text and instrumental music, often with more than a hint of comedy and

pantomime.

The origin of The Magic Flute was a request to Mozart by the Theater auf der

Wieden’s energetic owner and impresario Johann Joseph (Emmanuel) Schikaneder

(1751–1812), a friend of the Mozart family, a freemason like Mozart and the opera’s

librettist. The now well-known love-story plot is set in a fantasy world, following a

bewildering series of twists and turns filled with magical and supernatural events

that involve a feuding magus and maga, Egyptian-inspired rites, physical trials, and

bodily transformations. Its inspiration has seemed to successive commentators to

come from a bewildering variety of sources, including: freemasonry, Orphic legends,

fairy tales, Enlightenment philosophy and ongoing political and religious debates.

As such The Magic Flute can be set alongside a number of other German-language

musical stage works on fantastical/magical/supernatural themes that were produced

at this time but that are now long fallen into obscurity. In the case of The Magic Flute

it is the appeal of the work’s music by Mozart that has ensured its survival. Even so,

meaningful discussion of Mozart’s music is studiously sidestepped throughout this

book, as too a meaningful discussion of freemasonry.

Schikaneder’s disjointed plot has none of the literary sophistication and cohesion

of other operatic texts set by Mozart, and this has led generations of commentators

to ask “What is going on here?” That is, how are we to understand this seemingly

transient, gimmick-filled stage-work of Schikaneder that was given immortality by

the genius of Mozart? For 200 years writers have used much ink and paper in seeking

to provide answers but without any real consensus being achieved. This is hardly

surprising since there is no known primary evidence such as letters or diaries to

134 Journal for Research into Freemasonry and Fraternalism

© Equinox Publishing Ltd 2017.

explain Mozart and Schikaneder’s creative inspiration. Thus, without new archival

discoveries any discussion of the work’s genesis inevitably offers the opportunity for

little more than earnest and occasionally informed speculation; this book sits within

that tradition.

The author,Ian Thomson’s imaginative endeavour has brought together a complex

and wide-ranging array of historical, philosophical, and esoteric sources to illustrate

what he likes to think gave impetus to Schikaneder’s libretto. Here Thomson variously

introduces us to an ever-shifting kaleidoscope of sources, drawing on the travails of

medieval Grail Knights, the religious and magical intrigues of the courts of Frederick

V and Elizabeth of Bohemia and of the early Stuarts in England, the myth of Orpheus,

the tales developed by monks of Glastonbury, of an imagined Ethiopia and so on.

All are interpreted with some impressive leaps of imagination presented with great

conviction and—in Thomson’s own terms—coherently knitted together to illustrate

what he believes were the starting points of the opera. The conclusions drawn are

original and it is perhaps in these imaginatively argued and original conclusions

that we can envisage the book earning its keep as a theatre director’s sourcebook of

ideas for a staging of The Magic Flute: set in medieval times, full of chivalric Christian

fervour (qua Richard Wagner’s Lohengrin); set as a retelling of the classical Orpheus

myth (qua Claudio Monteverdi’s Orfeo); set as a late Renaissance masque peopled

by supernatural figures bringing order to chaos (qua Samuel Daniel’s Vision of the

Twelve Goddesses).

The book is well organized, and we easily follow Thomson’s lively and wideranging train(s) of thought chapter by chapter: 1.Viennese origins; 2. A commentary

on critical opinion to date; 3.A new approach; 4. The underworld drama and Tamino’s

virtue; 5. The significance of Papageno and Papagena; 6. Tamino’s alignment with the

Christ figure; 7. The implication of chivalric sources; 8. The basis of conflict between

Saratro and the Queen; 9. The roman à clef: necessary background; 10. a/The Queen,

b/Pamina and Tamino, c/Sarastro, d/Papageno and Papagena; 11. The alchemic

process in the roman à clef; The opera’s republican purpose; 13. The librettists and

the development of the libretto; 14. Some implications; Epilogue.

Throughout the book the style is polished, engaging and thought-provoking, not

least in the range and diversity of ground covered. But in all this, let us be clear,

there is no means to link any of this material in any meaningful way to whatever

were the plot-drivers used by Mozart and Schikaneder to create The Magic Flute.

Ultimately the book has not much of a contribution to make except, perhaps, on the

shelf marked Dramaturgy.

The work seems to be only available in hardback and the price-tag may deter

a casual reader from buying it. However, the work can be read on-line for free

in its original state as a PhD thesis (2003)—awarded by the now defunct Music

Department of the University of East Anglia, UK—via the British Library’s eThos

website, as: Thomson, I. Mozart’s opera Die Zauberflöte: an Analysis of the Historical and

Literary Sources of the Libretto


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