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Silence and Selfhood

The Desire of Order in Mozart's "Magic Flute</I>

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Michael Evenden

Mozart's Magic Flute, a rich but problematic work, is complicated by discontinuities of plot, tone, and theme that disturb its surface appearance as a serene synthesis of Enlightenment ideals. This study, an essay in a dramaturgical opera criticism, explores how this eccentric masterpiece, haunted by the decline of the progressive reforms of Joseph II, uses the images of the marginalized popular theater of suburban Vienna to express a fundamental anxiety of its time (and, by inheritance, ours): the clash of a pre-capitalist, pre-industrial social morality with a modern ethic of rationalized self-interest. This anxiety divides The Magic Flute, the Viennese social imagination, and the entire Mozart opera canon between the fascination of the newly emergent self and a compensatory desire for an idealized, spontaneous, but almost unrepresentable social order.