An opera in two Acts, The Magic Flute was first performed in 1791, just two months before the composer’s death. It was Mozart’s first opera for popular theatre. The Magic Flute was hugely successful and enjoyed 197 performances in two years throughout the world. It has been described as an exotic fairy tale with mystical elements, or less charitably, a bungled children’s story. It contains much symbolism relating to freemasonry, which was much in discussion at the time and under pressure from the authorities. Mozart and Emanuel Schikaneder (who provided the text), were both practising freemasons, and took the opportunity to exploit the forbidden rights on the stage. Much of the story is said to reflect the rituals and symbolism of freemasonry.
The opera is set in Egypt. Two of the central characters are Pamina, the Queen’s daughter, and Papageno, the Queen’s bird catcher. The opera charts the exploits of Tamino, a prince, and Papageno the bird catcher, in rescuing Pamina who is imprisoned in the castle of a wicked demon, Sarastro. Their quest is aided by the supernatural assistance of the magic flute. Overcoming all manner of trials, the heroic duo succeed in releasing Pamina. Pamina and Tamino are then exposed to fiendish trials before they are received into the temple of Sarastro, who turns out not to be an inhuman monster but the High Priest of the Temple of Wisdom. The Gods choose for Papageno a wife, initially presented as an old crone as a test, but later transformed into Papagena a young befeathered creature. The story ends on a happy note, with Papagena and Papageno contemplating many little Pa Pa’s. All’s well that ends well.