Saturday, March 12, 2016

What Kind of Opera Is The Magic Flute?

Mozart was buried in a paupers grave, but his memorial stands in Vienna, Austria.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's 1791 opera, The Magic Flute (German: Die Zauberflöte), is an opera written in the form of a Singspiel. Literally translating to "song-play" in German, Singspiel is a genre of German opera from the 18th and 19th centuries, which is characterized by its mix of spoken dialogue with musical numbers. Similar to an operetta, which are shorter in length, Singspiel operas typically employed a folkish, or comic play, with music -- arias, ensemble pieces and instrumental works -- inserted throughout.

Singspiel


In a singspiel, the spoken dialogue takes the place of the recitative. A recitative is a musically sung speech preceding an aria, which reports dramatic action or advances the plot. By replacing the recitative with spoken dialogue, singspiel operas were able to retain some of the same aesthetic feel of plays from the theater. Mozart himself was particularly fascinated by the magic of the theater, and utilized singspiel in The Magic Flute, along with quite an array of special effects -- magical instruments, a fire-breathing snake, and a flaming temple -- to perhaps integrate the classic style of opera with the popular theater of the common German people.

Opera Styles


Mozart was always on the lookout for a good libretto to set to stage. Over the extraordinary span of his career, he composed 20 operas. Eight of these works are in the older style known as opera seria, seven are in the comic opera buffa style and five are in singspiel. Opera seria, which dominated the stages of European courts during the 18th century, were fully-sung Italian operas whose plots centered on serious and often heroic ideals. Opera buffa were Italian comic operas, also fully sung, which used rapid-fire recitative (in contrast to the more naturally paced and often spoken dialogue of the French Opéra comique style).

Libretto


Actor-singer-showman Emanuel Schikaneder wrote the libretto for The Magic Flute, which is noted for its Masonic elements that promote universal brotherhood, as indeed, both Schikaneder and Mozart were Masons. And yet, the opera's story is also a classic tale of love overcoming trials and tribulations, and of the triumph of good over evil. Just as The Magic Flute offers both the simple and the philosophical in the themes of its plot, the opera's music is at the same time both complex and simple. Mozart composed some of the most vocally demanding works in his late opera, such as the challenging aria, popularly known as the Queen of the Night Aria (German: "Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen"), side by side with the charmingly simple sounds of German folk song.

Premiere


Impressively, Mozart wrote The Magic Flute in the last year of his life. The opera premiered in Vienna on September 30, 1791, with Mozart conducting the orchestra. After its great success, Mozart soon became ill and took to his bed around the 20th of November, and died in the early morning hours of December 5th. To this day, The Magic Flute remains one of Mozart's most universally beloved operas.