Monday, May 27, 2013

The Magic Flute Mystery: A Hard-boiled Tale

With the opera (or singspielThe Magic Flute (1791) did a certain Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his librettist Emanuel Schikaneder originate hard-boiled mystery?

Let's think about this.  In The Magic Flute we have this woman who calls herself the Queen of the Night (you can't get much more noir than that), who comes to the hero, Tamino, to tell him that she has a job she wants him to do for her.

the Queen of the Night
you don't wanna mess around with this dame

It seems that her daughter, Pamina, has fallen in with a bad lot, led by some sort of big crime boss, Sarastro.  She tasks Tamino (a real prince of a guy, by the way) with extricating Pamina from the evil clutches of Sarastro and his criminal gang.  Could they be dope merchants?  White slavers?

it seems that Pamina has fallen into the clutches of
Boss Sarastro and his criminal gang 


But, wait, it turns out that the Queen of the Night's story is a pack of lies!  It's all a set-up.

Like the classic hard-boiled femme fatale, this double-dealing dame has duped our Tamino. The more he investigates and interviews people, the more falsehoods he discovers that he's been told.


But Tamino will keep at it, getting to the truth whatever mean streets he must go down, because he's a tough customer, see?  He's also packing a piece that has a way of persuading people.

Yup, he's got a magic flute. And you don't want to be on the business end of that flute, let me tell you.  Tamino doesn't talk much, but he lets the flute do the talking for him, and what it says goes, got me?

Tamino: on the job, packing a flute

Although this bit comes more from classical detection, Tamino even has a sidekick, a "Watson" if you will. His name is Papageno and he's none too bright!  He provides some needed comic relief in this dark tale of deceit, treachery and high-level corruption.

Papageno: birdbrained?

So there you have it!  Step aside, Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, and let's give three cheers for Wolfgang Mozart, master of hard-boiled mystery.

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