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Eight Fascinating Facts about The Magic Flute

Posted on 8 May 2018

Following their critically acclaimed English language reimaginings of La Boheme and Carmen, the Olivier Award-winning OperaUpClose now take on The Magic Flute in an innovative production, running at the Belgrade for one-night only on Saturday 12 May.

Fully reimagined for the 21st century, this fresh take on Mozart’s much-loved flight of fancy fuses electronic and urban sounds with traditional classical orchestration. Meanwhile, a brand new English libretto by poet, author and playwright Glyn Maxwell relocates the action of the story to a messy night out at a fashionable Soho club, and the extraordinary dreams that follow.

The Magic Flute

Ahead of the show’s arrival on our Main Stage, here are eight things you might not know about The Magic Flute…

It was one of the last operas Mozart wrote and conducted

Originally performed at the Freihaus-Theatre auf der Wieden in Vienna, The Magic Flute premiered on 30 September 1791, two months before Mozart’s untimely death at the age of 35, the circumstances around which have since been much mythologised. Researchers have suggested over 100 possible causes for his death, but the official record lists it as hitziges Frieselfieber (“severe miliary fever”, referring to a rash that looks like millet seeds).

What is known is that his illness was already advancing by the time he conducted the world premiere of The Magic Flute, contracted during a stay in Prague earlier that same month. By the end of November, he was seriously ill and bedridden. Despite his massive fame, his funeral was a modest one, but it was followed by a surge of interest in his work: memorial concerts and services were well-attended, and several biographies were written.

The Magic Flute

Early productions involved a mystery instrument

Mozart’s original scoring calls for a “stromento d’acciaio”, or an “instrument of steel”, the meaning of which has since been lost to history. Modern scholars have speculated that it may have been a keyed glockenspiel, usually substituted with a celesta in modern performances.

The vocal scoring goes to both high and low extremes

Both of the arias sung by the Queen of the Night require a high F6, which is rarely seen in opera. Meanwhile, at the lower end of the spectrum, Sarastro sings a conspicuously low F2 in a few places, emphasising the contrast between darkness and light that the two characters represent.

The Magic Flute

The original Queen of the Night was Mozart’s sister-in-law

There’s evidence throughout the scoring to suggest that Mozart was writing with specific singers in mind. The original cast included a mixture of virtuoso singers and performers better known as comic actors, and each part is accordingly tailored to suit their abilities.

One of the most skilled and well-known singers in the original cast was Josepha Hofer, cast as the Queen of the Night, whose arias are amongst the most notoriously difficult in Mozart’s work. Hofer also happened to be the sister of Mozart’s wife, Constanze.

It’s said to contain Masonic references

Both Mozart and The Magic Flute’s librettist Emanuel Schikaneder were Freemasons, along with Ignaz Alberti, the printer and engraver of the first libretto. Over the years, there have been debates between scholars about the importance of this background as an influence on the opera.

The Magic Flute

Two different sequels have been attempted

The first person to attempt to write a sequel for The Magic Flute was the poet and playwright Goethe, with his libretto intended to be set to music by Paul Wronitzky. The work was never completed, however, and only a fragment survives today.

The second attempt was sponsored by Mozart’s own collaborator, Emanuel Schikaneder, who also wrote the libretto. Titled Das Labyrinth oder Der Kampf mit den Elementen (“The Labyrinth or The Struggle with the Elements”), the opera was composed in 1798 by Peter von Winter.

It remains one of the most popular operas today

Among the most famous and frequently staged operas around the world, The Magic Flute has nevertheless met with its fair share of criticism over the years.

Among the aspects that contemporary audiences often find problematic are elements now deemed misogynist or racist – something that OperaUpClose have worked hard to address in their reworking, changing the dynamic and the nature of the relationships between different characters, as well as the dialogue itself.

The Magic Flute

OperaUpClose aren’t the first company to put their stamp on the story

While OperaUpClose is unique in picking a nightclub and the disrupted dreams that follow as the setting for its current production, it is, in director Valentina Ceschi’s own words, perhaps not quite “as radical as people think”.

With more than 200 years having passed since the opera was first staged, it’s perhaps inevitable that countless adaptations, variations and works inspired by the story have emerged since. Over the years, the plot has been relocated to a huge array of different times and places in books, films and plays as well as operatic performances.

Among the most interesting and inventive productions are Kenneth Branagh’s 2006 film set during World War I; Sophiline Cheam Shapiro’s Cambodian dance version, Pamina Devi; and Impepe Yomlingo, a 2007 South African musical theatre production scored for an orchestra of marimbas, drums and township percussion.

OperaUpClose’s The Magic Flute runs at the Belgrade Theatre for one night only on Saturday 12 May. Tickets are available to book now.