Beguiled by the Bird-Catcher

The Raimund Theater sets the stage for Emanuel Schikaneder, legendary writer of The Magic Flute.

Every year, the day after the famed Opera Ball sweeps through the hallowed halls of the Staatsoper, a group of children is enchanted by a performance of Mozart’s Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute). They marvel at the catchy, accessible music and cringe from the Queen of the Night. The laughter, however, is reserved for the antics of Papageno the bird- catcher, a jolly fellow who bumbles around the stage and through the story with jocular innocence.

Emanuel Schikaneder, who wrote the libretto for The Magic Flute, saved this role for himself at the 1791 premiere; the opera would prove to be his greatest success, his verses finding fame that has endured to the present day.

Praise for works such as The Magic Flute most commonly goes to Mozart, with the writers often being neglected. However, the new musical Schikaneder, set for its world premiere on September 30 at the Raimund Theater, is an attempt to set the record straight by putting the spotlight on the most successful theater impresario in the German-speaking world of the late 18th century.

The creative team behind the production is illustrious: composer Stephen Schwartz has won Academy Awards, Grammys and Golden Globes for musicals such as Wicked and movies like Pocahontas and The Prince of Egypt. He wrote the musical score and lyrics with Christian Struppeck, the artistic director of the Vereinigte Bühnen Wien. The stage director is Sir Trevor Nunn, a three-time Tony Award winner known for his work on Cats, Les Misérables and Starlight Express.

The illustrious creative team behind Schikaneder (Photo: ©VBW/ Herwig Prammer)
The illustrious creative team behind Schikaneder. // ©VBW/ Herwig Prammer

Handy on Stage

The story they tell is of a man born as Johann Joseph Schikaneder to two domestic servants in Straubing, Bavaria: from these simple roots, he would rise up to become a wildly popular actor and singer on the stages of southern Germany. Later on, under his stage name Emanuel, he became a triumphant writer and theatrical director in Vienna, culminating in his celebrated collaboration with his friend Mozart.

Schikaneder later used the proceeds from The Magic Flute to build the Theater an der Wien, which is still operating today. The musical, however, is not his story alone. His wife Eleonore, also an actress and a huge creative influence on him, shared his life, one that was full of passionate love, tragic splits and final redemption.

© Lennart Horst

The sets and musical style transfer the audience back to an original 18th century theater; the music, although not quite Mozart-esque, along with the witty lyrics (German, with English subtitles) help to advance the plot. At times amusing, at times touching, it makes for an enjoyable, if a bit light, musical experience. The dramatic centerpiece, naturally – and both the writers and the spectators are well aware of that – is the very first performance of The Magic Flute, both onstage and behind the scenes, which comes after a dramatic reconciliation between Emanuel and Eleonore.

In the end, it’s Schikaneder in his own words as Papageno who once again captures the audience. More than two centuries later, we are still under the spell of the bird-catcher, no different than when he walked up stage for the first time, singing “Heisa, Hop-sa-sa!”




Premieres Sept 30 at 19:00, daily performances follow (except Mondays and holidays)

Raimund Theater
6., Wallgasse 18-20


Benjamin Wolf
Benjamin studied Journalism, History and International Affairs. After stints with Cafébabel in Paris and Arte in Strasbourg, he is now working as managing editor and COO for Metropole in Vienna. Fields of expertise are politics, economics, culture, and history.Photo: Visual Hub

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