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Mozart’s ‘The Magic Flute’ turns 230, plus six of the composer’s other greatest works

UPDATED: Wed., Sept. 29, 2021

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” (or “Die Zauberflöte”), with a libretto written by Emanuel Schikaneder, premiered in Vienna, Austria, on Sept. 30, 1791, just two months before the composer’s death.

Lost and pursued by a great serpent, Prince Tamino begs the gods to save him before fainting from fear. Tamino wakes to find three strange women who appear to have rescued him. The women take Tamino to their queen, who they explain has a task for him. The queen of the night, as she is called, tells Tamino that the evil sorcerer Sarastro has kidnapped her daughter, Pamina.

Suddenly in love with the girl, Tamino runs off to find her. But all is not what it seems. Featuring the famous “Queen of the Night” aria, among other popular arias, duets and trios, “The Magic Flute” is still considered one of the greatest operas of all time.

In no particular order, here are six more of Mozart’s best-known operatic works.

“Don Giovanni” (1787)

Apparently intent on sleeping with every woman alive, the lecherous rake Don Giovanni keeps a detailed catalog to which he adds the names of each successful conquest by any means necessary, his long-suffering servant, Leporello explains.

Giovanni finally goes too far when a “seduction” ends in a father’s murder. Plagued by a life of damning decisions and haunted by the man’s ghost, Giovanni begins a downward spiral that ends, quite literally, in hell.

“The Marriage of Figaro” (or “Le Nozze di Figaro”) (1786)

Picking up where Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville” leaves off, Mozart’s “Nozze” introduces audiences once more to the lovable Figaro, this time, preparing for his own marriage to the lovely Susanna. Unfortunately, the count, Figaro’s employer, now more interested in Figaro’s fiance than the very woman Figaro helped him to win, seems intent on stopping the wedding.

But Figaro, Susanna and the count’s undeservedly forgiving wife are much too clever for him. Widely considered a comic masterwork, “The Marriage of Figaro” is among the top 10 most frequently performed operas and one of the most well-loved.

And if you’ve ever seen “The Shawshank Redemption,” you’ll recognize the famous duet sung by Susanna and the countess, best sung, in my humble opinion, by Cecilia Bartoli and Renée Fleming. Search “Bartoli & Fleming – Le Nozze di Figaro – Sull’aria” on YouTube.

“Cosi fan Tutte” (1790)

Although the title roughly translates to “so do they all,” meaning “so do all women,” “Cosi fan Tutte” is a cautionary tale about idiots of both genders in love. Having just proposed, Guglielmo and Ferrando spend an afternoon boasting to each other about the fidelity of their respective sweethearts, Fiordiligi and Dorabella.

Overhearing, Don Alfonso, “an old philosopher,” decides to teach them a lesson, challenging the young men to put the devotion of their fiances to the test. Tell them that you have been summoned to fight at the front, he says, then return in disguise and attempt to seduce each other’s fiances. What could go wrong?

“The Abduction From the Seraglio” (1782)

Belmonte, a Spanish nobleman, learns that his betrothed, Konstanze, her English maid, Blonde, and his beloved servant Pedrillo have been abducted by pirates and sold into slavery at the hands of Pasha Selim. Attempting to break into Selim’s palace, Belmonte joyfully reunites with Pedrillo.

The two resolve to rescue Konstanze and Blonde, but despite the very real physical danger, the women are not as helpless as they might seem. Also known as “Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail,” this piece is famous for Konstanze’s demanding arias, “Ach ich liebte” (“How I Loved Him”) and “Martern aller Arten” (“Tortures Unrelenting”).

“Idomeneo” (1781)

Based on an Antoine Danchet play, “Idomeneo” follows Ilia, daughter of the defeated King Priam, as she is taken from the ruined city of Troy to Crete as tribute. The Cretan prince, Idamante, frees Ilia and her fellow Trojans with his father King Idomeneo’s blessing.

Ilia and Idamante love each other, but Ilia is hesitant to show her true feelings. Idamante tells Ilia it shouldn’t matter that their fathers were enemies, especially now that the freed Trojans and Cretans have made peace. Unfortunately, the Greek king Agamemnon’s daughter Elektra disagrees.

“La Clemenza di Tito” (1791)

Vitellia, daughter of the recently deposed emperor, vows revenge against the new emperor, Tito Vespasian. Blinded by rage, Vitellia calls on Sesto – a young patrician and friend of Tito’s who, for some reason, happens to be in love with Vitellia – to assassinate him.

But before Sesto can act, Vitellia’s ambition outweighs her desire for vengeance when she learns that she may have a chance at becoming Tito’s empress. Meanwhile, an attempt is made to burn down the capital, during which, ashamed and deeply conflicted, Sesto makes his attempt. Tito disappears, and the people assume he is dead. But all is not lost.

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