Mozart's Masonic Mystery: 'The Magic Flute'

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magic-flute-250bDo you remember The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown's mega-bestselling novel from 2003? Sure, most people do. But what about his next novel, The Lost Symbol? Though not as famous it did pretty well in its own right, and it's that grimly portentous book that has an interesting connection to Mozart's shrewdly playful opera, The Magic Flute.

The Lost Symbol features the same, somewhat unlikely central character as The Da Vinci Code -- a dashing, heroic "symbologist" named Robert Langdon. In the earlier book, Langdon was found decoding timeless legends of the Knights Templar. In the newer novel, he again tracks the age-old mysteries of an ancient order. This time, it's the Freemasons -- a fraternity famous for secret rites and rituals, which in the novel threaten to bring down the entire U.S. government.

Of course, writing about Masonic ceremonies can be a little bit dicey. The only people familiar with them are the Masons themselves -- and they're sworn to secrecy. So the rest of us are kept guessing as to how much actual fact might be present in Dan Brown's sensational fiction.

Opera lovers have long been in the same position when it comes to The Magic Flute. Both Mozart and the opera's librettist, Emanuel Schikaneder, were devoted Freemasons. But at the time, the Masonic order was frowned upon by the authorities and mistrusted by the public. Its meetings were mysterious to outsiders and the order was believed to be connected to the principles of the Enlightenment, so it made established political leaders nervous and the Austrian Emperor restricted its activities.

Thus, while Mozart's drama fell into the general category of "magic opera" -- works based on folk tales, with plenty of stunts, scene changes and spectacular stage effects -- it was also a political statement in disguise. Mozart and Schikaneder crammed all kinds of veiled Masonic symbolism into The Magic Flute, and people have been trying to figure the whole thing out for more than 200 years. (Maybe, in his next novel, Brown could have Robert Langdon decode the opera for us?)

Still, while many have speculated about the Masonic allegory in Mozart's opera, one of its messages seems fairly clear. The story introduces a mysterious brotherhood, supposedly headed by an evil man. But by opera's end, the brotherhood turns out to be benign -- even benevolent -- and the leader seems like a pretty decent fellow.

Perhaps that was perhaps Mozart's way of saying Freemasonry wasn't the ominous force some folks thought it was. On World of Opera, host Lisa Simeone presents Mozart's The Magic Flute in a buoyant performance from the historic Drottningholm Court Theatre in Sweden. The stars are soprano Christiane Karg and tenor Andrew Staples as Tamina and Pamino, alongside bass Peter Rose as Sarastro, and soprano Albina Shagimuratova as the Queen of the Night, in a performance is led by conductor Daniel Harding.

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