Skip to main content

Magic Flutes and Enchanted Forests

The Supernatural in Eighteenth-Century Musical Theater

Drawing on hundreds of operas, singspiels, ballets, and plays with supernatural themes, Magic Flutes and Enchanted Forests argues that the tension between fantasy and Enlightenment-era rationality shaped some of the most important works of eighteenth-century musical theater and profoundly influenced how audiences and critics responded to them.

David J. Buch reveals that despite—and perhaps even because of—their fundamental irrationality, fantastic and exotic themes acquired extraordinary force and popularity during the period, pervading theatrical works with music in the French, German, and Italian mainstream. Considering prominent compositions by Gluck, Rameau, and Haydn, as well as many seminal contributions by lesser-known artists, Buch locates the origins of these magical elements in such historical sources as ancient mythology, European fairy tales, the Arabian Nights, and the occult. He concludes with a brilliant excavation of the supernatural roots of Mozart’s The Magic Flute and Don Giovanni, building a new foundation for our understanding of the magical themes that proliferated in Mozart’s wake. 

480 pages | 4 color plates, 6 halftones, 51 musical examples, 3 tables | 7 x 10 | © 2008

Music: General Music


“This book brings to the fore, for the first time, a significant aspect of eighteenth-century opera, providing a new means of understanding elements of the marvelous, the supernatural, and the magical that operate across genres and national boundaries. The reach of David Buch’s investigation—over such a broad time span and including such vast repertories—is outstanding. Magic Flutes and Enchanted Forests is an astonishing achievement.”

Marita Petzoldt McClymonds, University of Virginia

“I know of no previous study that can be compared with Magic Flutes and Enchanted Forests, yet its topic is an important one that, one now realizes, was waiting for the suitable author to tackle it. David Buch is very well qualified to be that author. This is a very ambitious, wide-ranging, and impressive book.”

Peter Branscombe, University of St Andrews

"[Buch strives] to refute what he feels are the most common false assumptions about eighteenth-century opera, effectively arguing against those who have maintained that works with magical themes . . . are inherently less important than serious compositions. . . . His most valuable contribution, however, is undoubtedly the detailed and comprehensive discussion of the origins of the fantastic in eighteenth-century operas and stage works."

Donald R. Boomgaarden | Opera Today

"While numerous theatrical works include the supernatural . . . there have been surprisingly few musical studies devoted to the topic. . . . Buch’s is an essential and groundbreaking study."

Times Higher Education Supplement

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Precedents & Sources of Magic & the “Marvelous”
1 L’Académie Royale de Musique
2 Opéra-comique
3 Italian Serious Genres
4 Italian Comic Genres
5 German Musical Theater
6 The Supernatural in the Operas of Mozart 
The Significance & Influence of Supernatural Topics
Appendix A: Chronological List of Operas, Ballets, Comédies, Féeries, Pantomimes & Other Plays with Magic & Supernatural Content, 1699–1791
Appendix B: Selected Italian Circe, Medea & Orpheus Operas, 1700–1791
Appendix C: Operas Based on Ariosto & Tasso, 1700–1791
Appendix D: Some Eighteenth-Century Italian Don Juan Settings
Appendix E: Chronological List of German Theatrical Works with Magic & Supernatural Content, 1728–92


Choice Magazine: CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title Awards

Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press