Jonathan Salem Baskin

Masonic Secrets

Today, some secrets may have been revealed.

When Mozart debuted his last opera, The Magic Flute, in a small theater in the suburbs of Vienna on this day in 1791, he conducted the orchestra, and his sister-in-law was in the cast. So was Emanuel Schikaneder, who’d written the libretto, or story for the opera. It was ludicrous, and for an opera that’s saying a lot: An Evil Queen of the Night makes life difficult for a prince, who befriends animals in the forest as he goes in and out of various temples in an attempt either to do the Queen’s bidding (and rescue the woman he loves), or endure richly complex and apparently random tests involving drinks and visions.

It’s supposedly one grand Masonic allegory, telling the story of mankind’s escape from religious superstition to rationalism, with the tools of enlightenment, trial and error, represented by the main characters of Tamino and Papageno (Schikaneder played Papageno in the opening). Mozart had been a mason in good standing since 1784, and had written music for masonic ceremonies and events, while incorporating some masonic song phrasing into the Flute (the opening refrain is suggestive of the three knocks on a temple’s door). Mozart’s last professional appearance would be in mid-November of the same year, when he conducted his Little Masonic Cantata K. 623 at a local Viennese lodge. He would die a few weeks later. We still don’t know what he truly intended to communicate in his final operatic work, if anything at all.

Funny that there was a time when telling something important warranted making it obscure.