Even Salieri, the notorious villain of Peter Shaffer’s drama Amadeus, admired Mozart’s comic opera Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute), which was premièred in Vienna a few weeks before Mozart’s death in December 1791. Though sometimes enjoyed as a children’s opera, this is not a pantomime: rooted in Freemasonry, the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason, it promotes the ideals of progress, virtue, self-betterment, truth and justice. Tamino, an Egyptian Prince, has a magic flute to take him and his beloved Pamina through trials of constancy and endurance, before they can attain ultimate bliss. Critics have long been confounded as to how Mozart could present such a light-hearted yet deep masterpiece, with such wonderful music, while being in deep financial trouble. There is great stylistic diversity. The sensationally difficult part of the Queen of the Night comes from the Italian opera tradition, while the comical bird catcher Papageno (originally performed by the librettist Schikaneder) sings in the popular style of the Viennese suburbs. Such is the beauty of the music that Bernard Shaw thought that the O Isis and Osiris, of Sarastro, the High Priest, was fit to emerge from the mouth of a god. Written by Michael Steen, author of the acclaimed The Lives and Times of the Great Composers, ‘Short Guides to Great Operas’ are concise, entertaining and easy to read. They are packed with useful information and informed opinion, helping to make you a truly knowledgeable opera-goer, and so maximising your enjoyment of a great musical experience. Other ‘Short Guides to Great Operas’ that you may enjoy include Don Giovanni, The Marriage of Figaro and Così fan tutte.
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