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From around 1788 onwards, as several of these operas demonstrated, one of the special, if not unique, features of Schikaneder's company was that these were collaborative efforts. A number of the lead performers were also involved in the actual composition. These included Franz Xaver Gerl (whose wife was the first Papagena; he himself was the first Sarastro); the Bohemian-born tenor Benedikt Emanuel Schack (the original Tamino); Johann Georg Lickl; and the scarcely twenty year old conductor Johann Henneberg (1768-1822), who assisted Mozart by conducting rehearsals of The Magic Flute, and took over the conducting from Mozart after the second performance. These were some of the colleagues Schikanader inspired and cajoled into composing for him both individually (notably Schack, Lickl and Henneberg) and as part of a team.

Schack had already composed three of these operas himself in the 1780s, plus another earlier in that same year, 1790; and subsequently Gerl collaborated with him, sometimes with others too, on at least half a dozen scores. Young Henneberg would go on from his two Mozart collaborations (as composer and then conductor) to compose more than ten operas of his own, only two (three, if you include The Philosophers' Stone) being collaborations.

Hence this was no naïve or even hack compositional team. These were professionals. Like Michael Balfe, who came to composing operas a few decades later on from singing as a tenor and baritone, these artists knew the art form from inside, as active and hugely gifted performers.

Mozart himself was connected with the company at least as early as 1790: this was the year of his involvement in The Philosophers' Stone, most of which (although possibly not all) has been clearly identified. His familiarity with Schikaneder dated back, however, to when the latter's company visited Salzburg in 1780, and met both Mozart's father and the Mozart children, Wolfgang and his sister, Nannerl.

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Copyright © 9 July 2006 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry UK


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