European Views of Egyptian Magic and Mystery: A Cultural Context for The Magic Flute

Composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and librettist Emanuel Skikaneder lived and created during the height of eighteenth-century interest in and fascination with Egypt. The Magic Flute‘s Egyptian setting would therefore evoke in their contemporaneous audience notions of a distant land with an exotic and magical culture. The numerous Egyptian elements of the work are representative of its era and are suited near the end of a continuum of European thought about ancient Egypt before the solid foundation of modern day Egyptology had been laid. To Europeans, Egypt was a murky and mysterious landscape, one that easily lent itself to imaginative speculations about the purpose of its awesome architecture, the nature of its arcane ritual ceremonies, and the knowledge contained in its intriguing, then-undeciphered language. Such European perception of ancient Egypt informed the cultural productions of the late eighteenth century, including The Magic Flute.

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