Mozart lived to write opera, but he struggled with box office success. The initial run of "The Marriage of Figaro" in Vienna ran only nine times before closing. "Cosi fan tutte" was performed only five times before closing in respect after the Emperor's death. And then came "The Magic Flute." The opera opened in late September 1791 and ran regularly to full houses, with Mozart attending most nights with friends and relatives. But by early December, Mozart was dead. He didn't live to see how "The Magic Flute" continued to be a hit with 100 performances within the first year — or that it continues to be one of the most performed operas today. There's no shortage of historical grief over the knowledge that Mozart died during the most successful opera premiere he ever had.
At the center of "The Magic Flute" is the character Papageno, a half-bird, half-man creature who is tasked with helping Prince Tamino find his true love, Pamina. Papageno is the star of the show. He's a simple character who just wants a wife, or even a girlfriend. And when he's presented with an old woman as his only option, he takes it. The old woman then transforms into the young and pretty bird-like Papagena, fulfilling his dream.
Papageno is funny and down to earth. His character played well to the middle-class crowd that Mozart wrote this opera for. Papageno is memorialized in a statue in Salzburg, and Colorado native and pianist Katie Mahan takes us there in this episode of Mozart Snapshots.
Classical Music 24/7
Listen to CPR Classical by clicking “Listen Live” at the top on this website, or download the Colorado Public Radio app. Listen on your radio to CPR Classical at 88.1 FM in Denver, or on radio signals around Colorado. You can also tell your smart speaker to “Play CPR Classical."
You've read another CPR classical story to the end. We have got just the thing for classical music lovers like you: a weekly email newsletter! Sign up here to stay up-to-date on CPR Classical programming, events and stories from the world of classical music.