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  • Writer's picture Gary Bills


The quasi 3D effect is also noticeable in the tree sequence, where Papageno plays his pipes, as he dances and the birds settle upon him. Again, cages and nets have been drawn obliquely; but why is the impression of three dimensions so strong here? Conventional films, after all, are 2D also; but the sense of depth, - what may be called the 3D illusion, is effectively taken for granted. With shadow puppetry, the creation of the 3D illusion is more unexpected, and where the dominant tones are black, whites and greys, the figurative contrasts are more noticeable. Therefore, when artwork is oblique and well-arranged, to create the 3D illusion, it is all the more surprising, because it is unexpected, and the novelty helps to achieve the mind’s attention, even the mind’s fascination.

Mention must also be made of Reiniger’s use of perspective. She realised that one jointed puppet for each character would not be sufficient because close-ups would require larger figures than those used for tableaus of wider perspective and distance. Therefore, she reproduced her main figures in numerous different sizes for the numerous different shots she required.

Traditionally, the setting of The Magic Flute is Ancient Egypt, although critics have noted that the identity of the setting is somewhat fluid, and confusedly so. A leading opera critic Peter G. Davies, in an online article for the Cincinnati Opera (2017) wrote: “Even the time and place are inconsistent in this never-never land, a setting that includes suggestions of ancient Egypt, far-eastern mysticism, sombre Masonic rituals, pious biblical allusions, or comical antics that one might encounter at 18th-century Viennese puppet shows or vaudeville entertainments.”

Reiniger’s Papageno is set in a jungle, but aside from this the setting seems to be equally vague. The large number of silhouette parrots might be suggestive of warmer areas in the Southern Hemisphere, but other species, such as ducks and storks, could plausibly be from Europe. There are ostriches, which are strongly suggestive of the wilder regions of Africa, while the immense snake, which threatens Papageno and his love, Papagena, could be a menacing visitant from any jungle, including South America, where the boa constrictor is native.

Reiniger’s setting, then, is also a never-never land, but one with strong echoes of the Biblical Garden of Eden. Before her Papageno has his vision of the naked Papagena, he is fed and watered by friendly parrots. Life, then, appears to be easy for him, much as life was said to be easy for Adam and Eve, before their fall from grace. Reiniger’s bird-catcher seems to be catching birds merely for companionship, and so that they might serve him, which they are glad to do.

Adam and Eve were famously naked before the Fall, and – in Reiniger’s representation – when the semi-naked Papageno has his vision of Papagena, she is utterly naked, except for various feather headdresses. She is first introduced, in silhouette of course, as an invasion of dancing graces: a multiple Papagena, from Papageno’s fevered imagination. Cont - p5.

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