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A modern revival of a rediscovered opera
with music by Mozart after 176 Years!

MALCOLM MILLER attended the
UK Première and World Première of the English Translation of
The Philosopher's Stone or The Enchanted isle
(Der Stein Der Weisen oder die Zauberinsel)


<< Continued from page 1

With Millington in the role of libretto translator it was also the world première of Der Stein Der Weisen in its English version, a witty and finely rhyming text which follows the plot's twists and turns worthy of an Olympic slalom course in the unique Schikaneder tradition. Indeed, The Philosopher's Stone was a team effort by Mozart, opera singer/composers Benedikt Schack and Gerl, Kappelmeister Henneberg and Emanuel Schikaneder himself who presented it on 11 September 1790 at the Theater auf der Wieden. Though presumed lost, the score resurfaced in Hamburg recently in 1993 after a period of hibernation in archives in St Petersburg where it had sustained water-damage. It was re-examined in 1996 by the American Mozart scholar David J. Buch who found Mozart's signature not only on the famous 'Cat duet' (not Rossini's) recorded by Köchel, but in several more numbers previously not known about; and it is possible that several of the unattributed sections may also have Mozartean origins. As a whole, the work is both historically as well as musically significant, an important missing link in the tradition of 'Fairy Tale' operas, shown by its subtitle Die Zauberinsel (The Enchanted Isle) and a direct precursor of Mozart's famous masterpiece. Listening to the music there is no doubt as to the relationship between the two works both through its plot and musical style.

Schikaneder's adaptation of a story by the popular folkwriter Christoph Martin Wieland (also the source of The Magic Flute) tells of a pair of lovers separated through the whims of the gods Astromonte and his evil brother Eutrifronte. They are later reunited partly through virtue and courage, and partly through magical complicity. There is a magical bird whose song can spotlight the most 'virtuous' girl, and lead Nadir, an aristocratic youth, to his beloved Nadine; the bird's song, a rising scale fifth, is identical to Mozart's Flute. In the final sections, there is a dance for 'dwarves' in the forest around the lowly character Lubano, locked in a birdcage, pre-echoes of Papageno, and the enchanted animals in The Magic Flute, with which it shares a Mozartean lilt and delicacy. The pairs of lovers Nadir and Nadine and their more rustic counterparts Lubano and Lubanara, clearly foreshadow Tamino, Tamina, Papageno and Papagena and Mozart's cat duet itself - in which Lubanara can only 'miaow' - a brilliantly witty and sprightly duet in Act II, has much in common with the 'muzzle' quintet in The Magic Flute (where however it is Papageno who cannot speak). Similarities go deeper, with a power struggle between the 'wicked' Eutifronte who masquerades as virtuous victim and his brother Astromonte, that suggests the struggle between good and evil in The Magic Flute, and allusions to the Enlightenment rationalism in the face of all this magic emerge in a book given to Lubanara on ' self control and mastery' as the key to success.

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Copyright © 8 June 2000 Malcolm Miller, London, UK


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