TEACHING SESSION Staging The Magic Flute - to

1. show designers' responses to the same text and encourage you to make your own comparisons between staged examples, and between two-dimensional and staged designs
2. outline the mythic content of the opera
3. show the balance of popular elements and esoteric elements within a work of art, to look at the capacity of the work of art to convey several levels of meaning
4. encourage you to see the work for yourself.

The Magic Flute ,an opera in two acts, music by W.A.Mozart, libretto by Emanuel Schikaneder. Commissioned by Schikaneder in 1791 for the first night on September 30th. Composed the same year as an anonymous commission for a Requiem which Mozart gloomily associated with his own superstitious belief in imminent death. The Magic Flute was performed only weeks before Mozart's death on December 5th.


Act 1; Tamino, a prince is saved from a serpent by three women who turn out to be attendants of the Queen of the Night (see sheet of images). The latter promises him her daughter Tamina to him if he rescues her from the wicked and malign Sarastro (girls as prizes, again). Tamino agrees and departs with Papageno, the Queen's bird catcher, and guided by three boys in a flying machine. Pamina tries to escape but is recaptured by Monostatos, Sarastro's Moorish servant. Papageno inadvertantly terrifies Monostatos, and Tamina actually does escape. Tamino discovers that, far from being a tyrannical and evil force, Sarastro is the fount of all wisdom and vitue. Pamina and Papageno are discovered by Sarastro and try to flee. Tamino and Papageno are invited to take the initiation trials of Sarastro's circle.

Act 2; The initiates undergo four Trials
1. they are sworn to silence in a darkened room and resist the three attendants of the Queen of the Night.
2. Papageno gives way in his vow of silence and chats to an old crone but Tamino refuses to greet the grief stricken Pamina. Sarastro tells the two men they have passed the first two trials. Papageno tells the old crone he loves her truly and she is transformed into his perfect female counterpart Papgena, before they too are forced to part.
3. The Trial of Fire ,
4. The Trial of Water , both of which Tamino passes through while playing his magic flute, to finally enter Sarastro's temple. The lovers are thus reunited, and a final plot to infiltrate Sarastro's temple by the Queen of the Night and her attendants evaporates before the sunlight of wisdom and truth shining around Sarastro, the lovers, the three boys and the priests.

Thematic Analysis
From the plot as written here you might assume the opera be fanciful, a fairy tale (generous), or just plain daft. The curious reversal of the roles and values of the Queen of the Night and Sarastro hinmts at something more profound and resonant. The libretto is intensively set with Masonic symbols and Jacques Chailly (see beneath) has revealed how immediate and controversial were the references embedded within the Flute. The opera can initially be seen as a journey of reconciliation from darkness to light to celebrate the notion of Progress.

But a first interpretation can be set out thus,
"The conflict in the Flute between the Queen and Sarastro for control of the Circle of the Sun symbolises the conflict in Masonic lore between the dualism proposed by inscriptions on the twin pillars of Hiram's Temple of Solomon, which list varying opposing forces; masculine/feminine, sun/moon, day/night, fire/water, gold/silver, etc." English National Opera Guide, John Calder London 1983. Sarastro seeks to bring about in the union of Tamino and Pamina a synthesis of warring elements that will bring about a new Golden Age of Peace and Wisdom. Specifically, references in the opera explore in an oblique way the contemporary controversy as to whether women should be admitted as full members of the Masonic Order. There were Lodges of Adoption for women ; items in their ritual included a serpent, veils and a golden padlock, all of which appear in the opera.

Detailed references to the minutae of Masonic lore can be found throughout, see Jacques Chailly, The Magic Flute,Masonic Opera Gollancz London 1972, and Paul Nettl, Mozart and Masonry , Da Capo, NY 1970 (Polytechnic Library, 780.92)

Designing for the Flute

ABOVE A scene from Hockney's staging.

The staging of the appearence of the Queen of the Night (several versions)
1. version by the architect, Karl Frederick Schinkel see aquatint after his drawing of The Queen of the Night (1816)
2. version by the set designer Simon Quaglio 1818, pen, watercolour.
3. version by David Hockney , 1978
4. version for Ingmar Bergman's staging. 1975

EXERCISE 2 Hockney's staging of key elements ; the beginning of Act 2, and a comparison with Bergman's version
" There are so many ways you can interpret The Magic Flute. Even though John Cox and I had discussed many possibilities. once I got into the music I saw tended to see things my own way. John had thought about Sarastro's kingdom as an ideal place a utopia, but I saw it more geometrically. My concept was more abstract. It was a place of order and proportion and I expressed those ideas in straight lines. Here's one example My set for the beginning of Act2 is a symmetrical view of a palace garden that extends intop deep space. The converging lines of the palm trees and the pyramid in the distance give you that feeling. I suppose that if I had directed it Sarastro and his followers would have been placed formally within that framework to emphasise the set's perspective. But John actually wanted them seated in a circle on the floor, because his vision of Sarastro's kingdom was a kind of democracy." David Hockney (Hayward 1985)

"All things considered the most effective scenes were those in which the action and the painted cloths were confined far downstage, carefully lit from the front, and the whole aspired most nearly to the nature of a picture in a frame..... The most unsatisfactory aspect of our Magic Flute was the costumes, where David's eclecticism fell short of perfection because it became difficult for him to know where to turn. "

" The Magic Flute which encouraged Hockney to think in terms of time and space, also led him to regard his new work as a form of environmental sculpture. But his painter's sensibility prevailed and the game of illusion was much more challenging to him than mere verisimilitude. It was more interesting to suggest endless space than to displace it with heavy volume." Hayward 1985.