Exuding a remarkable dynamism and energy, Autour de la flûte enchantée
thrillingly distills a scene from Mozart’s extraordinary opera from 1791, The Magic Flute
. Considered to be one of Mozart’s most musically brilliant and mature compositions, The Magic Flute
tells the fantastical story of a young prince, Tamino, who sets out to rescue his love Pamina from the clutches of the supposedly evil sorcerer, Sarastro, urged on by the powerful Queen of the Night. Mozart weaves a strong Masonic theme throughout the tale, with Tamino having to undertake three trials during the course of the opera—of silence, water and fire—which he successfully passes through with the aid of a magic flute. Prior to the eventual joyful union of Tamino and Pamina with which the opera ends, Sarastro is revealed to be a powerful yet benevolent high priest, whilst the Queen of the Night is unmasked as an evil schemer and duly defeated. The scene depicted within the present work appears to illustrate one of the climactic moments from the opera, when Sarastro banishes the rebellious Queen of the Night from his kingdom. The gloriously ascendant sun which can be seen in the background, overpowering the feeble light of the sinking moon, reflects the reversal of power and the subsequent restoration of the rightful order, whilst the vibrant yellow of the sky seems to drown out the hovering stars. Chagall inserts a musical motif in the lower left corner as a reflection of the power of the magic flute itself, which can be seen prominently clasped within Sarastro’s hand.
Chagall adored the music of Mozart, in particular that of The Magic Flute. He sought to draw analogies between the story of the opera and Biblical lore, once declaring that: "For me there is nothing on earth that approaches those two perfections—The Magic Flute and the Bible" (quoted in Jackie Wullschlager, Chagall, Love and Exile, London, 2008, p. 337). In 1967 the artist designed the set and costumes for a production of The Magic Flute at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, which were critically acclaimed, as one reviewer noted: "Many members of the Metropolitan Opera House's audience were convinced that Marc Chagall had not only designed the new production of 'The Magic Flute,' but had also composed the music, written the libretto, sung the major roles and conducted. It was decidedly Chagall's evening, judging from the conversation and from the wild applause that greeted each new stage picture (often to the detriment of the music); seldom has a Met audience come to a performance so visual-minded" (Alan Rich, The World Journal Tribune, February 20, 1967).