Phenomenologists describe how they come to know about objects that appear to consciousness. Of the many artistic genres investigated using the phenomenological method, however, opera is conspicuously absent. Adapting an aesthetic model from the work of Roman Ingarden and Eugene F. Kaelin, I phenomenologically describe Die Zauberflöte by W. A. Mozart and Emanuel Schikaneder.
From Ingarden, I adopted the three phases of aesthetic inquiry: preaesthetic, aesthetic, and postaesthetic. The analytic preaesthetic investigation included three activities: devising an "opera-as-heard" libretto edition that typographically reflects the effects of the score on the complete spoken and sung text, generating a concordance, and developing a hermeneutical hypothesis which is tested during the synthetic aesthetic phase of inquiry. While Ingarden provided a theoretical framework for the study, Kaelin provided an applicable method -- including such activities as relativization and deepening -- which he calls a "phenomenological structuralism." His practical methodology calls for describing the relationships among the counters as they interrelate and deepen among the opera's three perceptual fields: score, text, and mise-en-scène. The postaesthetic analysis examines previous interpretations -- including libretto translations and editions, literary and visual adaptations, previous exegeses, and cinematic settings -- of the work. Having established the logical perfections in the libretto and score and their combined experience during the first phases of study, it argues with critics who allege that the work is sophomoric, sexist, and racist, and describes artists' responses to the work in a variety of artistic media.
When experienced as Mozart and Schikaneder wrote it, Die Zauberflöte offers one of the most profound experiences to be had in an opera. Not simply an Enlightenment ritual in symmetry, it is a process that begins with a precariously unbalanced state, continues as the characters are forced to confront their world's imbalances, and ends as they achieve balance (and Enlightenment). The balancing process, moreover, spans a perfectly shaped complementarity between the libretto and score that simultaneously enliven and enrich each other. Within the process can be found a perfectly expressed humanism where characters, plot, and score are cast in high relief.