The Magic Flute Unveiled
Esoteric Symbolism in Mozart's Masonic Opera
Review by Ed King
I'm a person who enjoys most any kind of music. Playing or listening, I'm
comfortable with marches or reggae. There's one exception: opera. Like many, I
find it difficult (if not impossible) to understand and/or appreciate. With that
in mind, I was prepared for a long and dreary reading. What I found in this book
expectation with much detail of interest only to erstwhile opera lovers but what
was also there was considerable, interesting detail about matters Masonic in
1700s Continental Freemasonry. In short, don't overlook this book just
because you're not an opera aficionado!
This book is not a 'light read' by any stretch of imagination. Its
orientation is directed towards opera buffs. Readers who'd hoped for a biography of
Mozart and his Masonic connections will be greatly disappointed. Fans of this opera, however, will find a
treasure-trove of detailed explanation which will (hopefully) add to their understanding of a convoluted and confusing but rich and powerful work with some
of the best musical scoring of all time.
Jacques Chailley is not a Mason but he has filled this work with detail of
the type one normally finds only in works of Masonic history written by Masons
for Masons. American readers
of this work will likely think that Chailley has gone beyond the bounds of
reason when he ascribes certain things to 'Masonic influence' but Masons on the
Continent will likely react differently. The subtleties of symbolism are treated
with respect and understanding and the author is careful to substantiate his
As just one sample of the author's thoroughness, he notes a 1911 work wherein
an author had "...tried to make of Mozart, among many others, not only the
regular Mason that everyone knows him to have been, but also an adept of
Illuminism; that thesis has been repeated often since then. Mozart's supposed
entry into Illuminism would have occurred will before his regular initiation in
1784, and that would explain the abundance of the somewhat "para-Masonic"
works which he composed before that event. This thesis seems to have been
received with skepticism in well-informed circles. Having no competence to judge
it, I limit myself to mentioning it without expressing an opinion. I am,
however, very much inclined to share the skepticism. Koch's book seems not to be
scholarly in its handling of information." It's this type of writing
which endeared me to this work and although I'm poorly equipped to judge whether
Chailley has properly applied the appropriate symbolism to various pieces of
this opera, he certainly seems to have 'done his homework'.
Of interest to students of Masonic history; of great interest to those who
love opera and this opera in particular. (See below for a GREAT DVD of this
opera - in ENGLISH!)
Some further information
Since writing our initial review, we received an e-mail from a Mason who
was a music history professor for many years. He tells us that Chailley is a
highly respected author in the field of music and feels this work is highly
readable. He has encouraged me to try listening to "Magic Flute" with
"Read the libretto first, of course (as you should always do before
listening to an opera, even one in your native tongue). Then, bearing the story
and the symbolism in mind, give it a try. It's wonderful: often very funny,
sometimes scary, almost always moving. And in the final scene, who ya gonna
trust? Sarastro of the Queen of the Night?"
He advises that there are a number of really superb performances of this work
available at reasonable prices. I suggested that I might immerse myself in this
during summer vacation at a lakeside cottage in Vermont. He replied:
"I suspect you'll be amazed at how really accessible this particular
opera is. It doesn't take anything more than an open mind and time to understand
its fundamentals. To understand it completely would, however, take several
lifetimes. That's why I love it so much -- there's just layer upon layer.
Most folks agree it's Bro. Wolfgang's operatic masterpiece, and, in fact, one of
the greatest operas every written. Even better for Mozart, it was a real
commercial success, although he was so close to dying that it didn't do him much
Our thanks to Brother John Klaus of Mt. Vernon, Iowa, USA for providing us
with this additional information and encouragement. He swears that he'll
make an opera lover out of me yet....
I'd read books trying to simplify one's understanding of opera and I'd followed the instructions above but NOTHING could compare to
seeing the Metropolitan Opera's performance directed by Julie Taymor. There are
lots of other performances around and others by the Met but THIS is THE ONE that
you should watch. It's in ENGLISH and the scenery is astounding. It will allow
you UNDERSTAND this opera - even if you don't like opera or have never seen one.
The Met doesn't sell this DVD: apparently there's some sort of dispute but I
ordered mine from a third party on Amazon and couldn't have been more pleased.
If this sounds enthusiastic or gushy, it's because this REALLY is an excellent
piece to see. You'll drag the whole family in to watch and it's likely you'll
watch it several times. Believe me: it's worth the investment! GET IT!!!
And for some more interesting information on this topic, point
your browser to the Indiana
Masons Online site where you'll find a nice summary of biographical and
Masonic information regarding Brother Mozart.