Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte was first performed in Frankfurt on 16 Aug 1793 in the Comödienhaus by the recently formed resident theatrical company, the so-called “Nationaltheater” (see Mohr 1968, 157ff, with a facsimile of the poster from the premiere on 159). The Nationaltheater gave its first performance on 21 Oct 1792; the report cited here from the Berlin journal Musikalische Monathsschrift, with the dateline 7 Aug 1792, makes clear that the company was intending to prepare—or, as the report seems to imply, was already preparing—Die Zauberflöte, a full year before its eventual premiere. At the time of the report, Mozart’s opera had yet to be produced outside of Vienna; the first such performance took place in Lemberg (Lviv, Lvov) on 21 Sep 1792 (Got 1997).
“Herr Kunzen” is the composer Friedrich Ludwig Æmilius Kunzen (1761–1817), the founding editor of the Musikalisches Wochenblatt, the weekly journal that was the immediate predecessor of the Musikalische Monathsschrift, in which this report appears. (For an overview of the Mozart documents in these two journals, see our entry for 10 Oct 1791.) Kunzen had left Berlin and the Wochenblatt in 1792 to become co-director of music for the Nationaltheater, along with the violinist Ferdinand Fränzl (1767–1833). It is possible that the report transcribed here stems from Kunzen himself (although in that case it is rather self-congratulatory); it seems, in any case, to have been written by someone with inside knowledge of the Frankfurt company. “Oberron” refers to Kunzen’s Danish opera Holger Danske (adapted from Wieland’s Oberon), written while he was living in Copenhagen.
The other operas mentioned in the report are Peter Winter’s Helena und Paris (first performed in Munich in 1782) and Joseph Haydn’s Orlando paladino (first performed in Eszterháza in 1782), which was ultimately derived from Ariosto’s Orlando furioso—hence the title of the German adaptation, Der wüthende Roland. The report states that “known” (bekannte) operas are being prepared by the new company in Frankfurt in order to develop a repertory.
The operas by Mozart and Haydn are said to be in preparation for the coming “Messe,” or trade fair. Frankfurt typically hosted two such fairs each year, one in the spring and another in the fall. Johann Bernhard Müller, in his Beschreibung des gegenwärtigen Zustandes der Freien Reichs=Wahl und Handels=Stadt Franckfurt am Mayn, published in 1747, describes the timing and duration of these fairs as follows:
Unter denen guten Würckungen der Handlung, welche unsere Kauffmannschafft in den schönsten Flor gebracht, siehet man vor andern unsere zwey Volckreiche und weit berühmte Messen. Die erste ist gleich nach Ostern, und die andere Montags nach Maria Geburt; Doch wenn dieser Tag selbst auf Montag, Dienstag oder Mittwoch fällt, so gehet die Messe selbigen Montag, oder beyden letzteren Tägen noch zuvor an. Beyde Messen währen drey Wochen hindurch, zu deren Anfang und Ende das Zeichen mit Läutung der Sturm=Glocken und einigen Canon=Schüssen gegeben wird.
Among the good effects of the activity that our merchants have brought to highest fruition, one notes above all our two populous and widely celebrated fairs. The first is right after Easter, the other on Monday after the Nativity of Mary; but when this day itself falls on Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday, the fair begins on that same Monday, or before the two latter days. Both fairs last three full weeks; the beginning and end is marked by the ringing of the storm bell and some cannon shots.
(On the Frankfurt fairs see also our entry for 2 Apr 1782.)
The Nativity of Mary falls on 8 Sep, and the report in the Monathsschrift, is dated 7 Aug, so the report might be taken to imply that the two operas were in preparation for the approaching fall fair. The new theatrical company did not, however, give its first performance until 21 Oct 1792 (the following day the city was occupied by French forces under General Custine; it was retaken by Prussian and Hessian forces in December). Neither Haydn’s nor Mozart’s opera was performed during the spring fair in 1793. Die Zauberflöte finally had its premiere on 16 Aug 1793, before the beginning of the fall fair that year, and Der wüthende Roland was first performed during the fair, on 22 Sep 1793.
Die Zauberflöte was a sensation in Frankfurt. The Journal des Luxus und der Moden reported in Oct 1793 (vol. 8, 514–15):
[August] Zum erstenmal, die Zauberflöte, Op. in zwey Aufzügen, mit Musik von Mozart. 17. und 18. wiederholt. Alle 3 Tage war Abonnement suspendu, und jedesmal das Haus gepropft voll so, daß man das erste und letztemal viele hundert Menschen abweisen mußte. Decorationes und Kleidung so wie alle zu dieser Oper erforderliche Requisiten, machen der Direction Ehre, und es ist an der ganzen Einrichtung weder Fleiß noch Aufwand gesparet worden, auch war der Beyfall allgemein, und sowohl das Orchester also die spielenden Personen strengten gemeinschaftlich alle ihre Kräfte zur guten Ausführrung an; [...]
16 [August], for the first time, The Magic Flute, opera in two acts, with music by Mozart. Repeated the 17th and 18th. All three days were “suspended subscription” and each time the house was packed full, so that at the first and last, many hundreds of people had to be turned away. Sets and costumes, as well as all the necessary props, do honor to the management, and no pain or expense was spared on the entire production; the applause was universal, and the orchestra together with the cast exerted all their powers for a good performance [...]
The performance was not perfect: the reviewer goes on to point out that Herr Schröder, although a fine actor, could not negotiate Tamino’s high notes, and that the snake had malfunctioned in every performance. But in spite of these quibbles, the reviewer concludes, the young company shows promise of becoming among the best in Germany.
Frau Rat Catharina Elisabeth Goethe, the poet’s mother, describes the opera’s popularity in a letter to her son on 9 Nov 1793 (also in Dokumente, 410), noting that the house was always “geproft voll” [sic] and that the king (Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia) had given the theater “100 Carolinen” at the last performance that he attended before returning home. In a letter to her son on 6 Feb 1794 (Dokumente, 411) she writes that the house is still “voll gepropft” at every performance and has taken in 22,000 fl up to that point; and on 5 May 1794 (not in Dokumente; see Mohr 1968, 161) she writes:
Vorrige Woche ist die Zauberflöte zweymahl bey so vollem Hauße gegeben worden, daß alle Thüren offen bleiben mußten sonst wäre man vor Hitze erstickt!
Last week Die Zauberflöte was given twice to such full houses that all the doors had to be left open, otherwise one would have suffocated from the heat!