Written in the year of the composer's death, the Singspiel Die Zauberflote (The Magic Flute) was written for Mozart's friend, the impressario Emanuel Schikaneder, and his theatre. Work began in June 1791 and the first performance was given at Veinna's Theater auf der Wieden on 30 September. The work grew steadily in popularity, the composer Salieri greeting every item at a performance he attended with 'bravo' or 'bello'!
Die Zauberflote is firmly in the tradition of Viennese popular theatre; it combines sublime music with an intentionally ridiculous plot, based on Liebeskind's Lulu oder Die Zauberflote. Yet, it also has a more mysterious underpinning: Freemasonary. Mozart and Shikaneder were both masons and masonic symbolism is much in evidence. The overture makes particular use of the masonic No. 3 (three flats in the key signature, three opening chords etc), and the opera makes allusion to certain masonic rituals and beliefs.
There are a multitude of musical highlights in this glorious work. The overture is a frequent favourite in the concert hall, its weighty opening contrasting with the silliness of the fugal theme. Other favourites of opera audiences include the collaratura brilliance of the Queen of the Night's aria Der holle Rache, and the charming duet Bei Mannern welche Liebe fuhlen.
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