Cowgill, Rachel (2010) New Light and the Man of Might: Revisiting Early Interpretations of Mozart's Die Zauberflöte. In: Art and Ideology in European Opera: Essays in Honour of Julian Rushton. Boydell & Brewer, Woodbridge, pp. 194-221. ISBN 9781843835677

Recent scholarship has questioned the conventional view of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte as a masonic allegory, preferring to locate the work in a long tradition of magical and supernatural opera that flourished during the Enlightenment. This essay argues against that trend by analysing a series of early political and ideological readings of the opera, the majority of which are discussed here in detail for the first time. Most notable is an anonymous manuscript ‘allegory’ (British Library, Add. MS 25965, fols 2r-3r) that was submitted with an English translation of the libretto to Richard Brinsley Sheridan for consideration for performance at Drury Lane; this early interpretation of Die Zauberflöte had been overlooked, but Cowgill demonstrates it can be shown to have been circulating in central Europe within three years of the opera’s premiere. Drawing on a rigorous collation and examination of surviving libretti and critical commentary, Cowgill broadens the discussion to consider the first five decades of the opera’s reception in London, where its combination of ‘ancient’ and ‘modern’ characteristics were seen to bridge a schism in musical aesthetics as well as modelling a reconciliation of conflicting political elements in British society in the decades after the Congress of Vienna.

A paper based on the essay was presented at an interdisciplinary symposium on Die Zauberflöte at the University of California, Berkeley in 2010. It appears in an international Festschrift that explores the tensions between opera as art and opera as ideology in European culture, organised around three main themes: nationalism, cosmopolitanism, and national opera; opera, class, and the politics of enlightenment; opera and otherness. Cowgill co-wrote the prologue, but was the lead editor and undertook most of the developmental and editorial work, including preparation of a bibliography of the dedicatee’s published scholarship and compositions.

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