A Behind the Scenes Look at The Magic Flute Opera by W.A.Mozart

The Magic Flute opera (originally composed as Die Zauberflöte) is the work of the famous baroque music composer – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791) and Viennese librettist – Johann Emmanuel Schikaneder (1751 – 1812).

The opera is famous for its Queen of the Night arias and the comic performances of Papageno, the bird-catcher.

From among all of Mozart operas, Zauberflöte is by far the most popular amidst the many operas by Mozart. The Magic Flute by Mozart is staged either in its full “adult” version or in its shortened interpretation intended for a more youthful audience.

Did you know that the first performance of The Magic Flute outside Vienna was given in Lviv, Ukraine in 1792?


Read to Discover The Magic Flute Opera by Mozart

The Magic Flute by W.A.Mozart
The Magic Flute by W.A.Mozart

The Magic Flute (Die Zauberflöte) by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is a unique opera experience for both adults and children.

  1. The Magic Flute Story Synopsis

  2. Die Zauberflöte Length

  3. Magic Flute Premiere in Vienna (1791)

  4. Magic Flute Premiere outside Vienna (1792)

  5. Grand opera? German Opera? Singspiel?


What is A Short Synopsis of The Magic Flute Opera?

Short Synopsis of The Magic Flute
Short Synopsis of The Magic Flute

A short synopsis of the opera The Magic Flute (Die Zauberflöte) story can be done in 1 sentence: The Magic Flute opera is about Prince Tamino and Princess Pamina who overcome the forces of darkness in order that truth and love may reign in the world.

A short 3 sentence synopsis of Die Zauberflöte opera story is:

  1. Prince Tamino wanders into a strange land where he comes upon a hideous serpent, meets Papageno, the bird-catcher and the Queen of the Night’s Three Attendants, who entrust the two with rescuing Pamina, the Queen’s daughter, abducted by Sarastro.

  2. Tamino and Papageno arrive at Sarastro’s kingdom only to discover that it contains The Temple of Knowledge where they are given 3 challenges to be completed before they can find enlightenment, true love and free the world of evil.

  3. With the help of a magic flute and magical chimes, evil is banished, the people are able to once again live in the light of the Sun and Tamino unites with Pamina, while Papageno discovers Papagena.

Of course, a more detailed synopsis or summary of the opera by Mozart will provide more story details.


How Long is The Magic Flute Opera by Mozart?

Die Zauberflöte at Lviv Opera
Die Zauberflöte at Lviv Opera

In its entirety and in the original version, The Magic Flute is quite a long opera by today’s standards.

The original German language version of Die Zauberflöte with orchestral music, soloist arias, choral choruses and spoken dialogue runs for about 3 hours – slightly more than 3 hours if you include the intermission. The Magic Flute is a very philosophical opera and the characters spend much time during their arias discussing philosophical trends and ideas.

In Canada and the USA, a shorter version is often performed for young audiences. For this shorter version, dialogue (and sometimes singing) is performed in English. The many philosophical arias that include little to no action are eliminated and more emphasis is placed on the magical and fairy tale elements of the opera.

The Magic Flute production at the Lviv Opera House has retained the philosophical aspects of the opera. However, the production features singing in German and spoken dialogue in Ukrainian with animals, flying props, trap doors and colourful costumes.


When Did The Magic Flute Premiere?

The Magic Flute Premiere in Vienna
The Magic Flute Premiere in Vienna

Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) by Mozart premiered on September 30, 1791 in Vienna. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart personally conducted the premiere performance.

The premiere performance took place at the Freihaus-Theater auf der Wieden. This was a theatre located in the outlying suburbs of Vienna. The director of the Freihaus-Theatre auf de Wieden was Johann Emmanual Schikaneder (1751 – 1812).

In addition to being the director, Schikaneder wrote the German language libretto (spoken and sung) for The Magic Flute.

W.A.Mozart passed away a little over 2 months after the Vienna premiere of The Magic Flute. According to the custom of the day, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was buried in a communal grave outside the city gates of Vienna.


When and Where Was Die Zauberflöte First Performed Outside Vienna?

The Magic Flute Premiere in Lviv
The Magic Flute Premiere in Lviv

Die Zauberflöte opera by W.A.Mozart premiered in Vienna on September 30, 1791. Just short of 1 year later, on September 21, 1792, the first performance of The Magic Flute outside Vienna took place in Lviv, Ukraine (a new window will open).

You say – Ukraine did not exist at the time? True. But, neither did Austria! At the time of The Magic Flute’s premieres, both Vienna and Lviv were within the Hapsburg Empire (1771 – 19181).

Why did Lviv have the honour of hosting the first performance of Die Zauberflöte outside Vienna?

In 1792, at the time of The Magic Flute premiere, the city of Lviv was known as Lemberg. The city was the capital of the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria (1772 – 1918) within the Hapsburg Empire and a vibrant cultural centre. Indeed, during the late 18thC and early 19thC, various Italian singers would regularly perform in the city of Lviv (Lemberg).

Sixteen years after this first performance outside Vienna (but, within the boundaries of the Hapsburg Empire), W.A.Mozart’s youngest son, F.X.Mozart (1791 – 1844) would make Lviv his home – living, teaching, performing and composing in and around the city for the next 30 years.


What Kind of Musical Piece is The Magic Flute by Mozart?

Die Zauberflöte Music
Die Zauberflöte Music

The music genre of The Magic Flute (Die Zauberflöte) by W.A.Mozart is not that easy to identify. In fact, if truth be known, even Mozart and his contemporaries couldn’t quite make up their minds what to call it.

In the original announcement for Die Zauberflöte premiere, the performance is advertised as “Eine grosse Oper in 2 Akten…”, which in English translation means: “A Grand Opera in 2 Acts…”. In an 1808 (also quoted as 1814) publication of the score in Leipzig, The Magic Flute is labeled as “eine grosse oper” (a grand opera).

The problem is that the premiere of Die Zauberflöte took place in 1791, whereas, grand opera as a musical genre didn’t emerge in Europe until almost 30 to 40 years later.

W.A.Mozart kept a personal musical journal from 1784 to 1791. In this journal, Mozart referred to Die Zauberflöte as “eine deutsche Oper in 2 Eingangen” – in English translation this reads as “a German opera with 2 entries (ie. 2 acts)”. The entry appears in Mozart’s personal handwriting.

Today, many opera programme notes, recording introductions and promotional materials refer to The Magic Flute as a singspiel. Singspiel is a German word and combines the German words sing, meaning “to sing” and spiel meaning “to play”. The singspiel is a form of opera that incorporates both singing (aria and choral) and spoken dialogue.

So, is Die Zauberflöte a grand opera, a German opera or a singspiel? Perhaps, it is all of the above.


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Text by Oksana A. Wynnyckyj-Yusypovych