Major Operas | Die Zauberflöte by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart | Classical Era

The Magic Flute

The librettist of Die Zauberflöte, Emanuel Schikaneder, Mozart’s old friend and fellow freemason, drew on an eclectic variety of sources, including a French novel, Sethos, Paul Wranitzky’s magic opera Oberon (1789) and the oriental fairy tale Lulu.

In the bird catcher Papageno, Schikaneder created for himself a character that could exploit his talent for milking an audience; and in early performances he predictably stole the show, abetted by Mozart’s own antics on the glockenspiel.

Stylistically Die Zauberflöte is the most heterogeneous opera in the repertoire, juxtaposing pantomime and grave masonic ritual, solemn fairy tale and earthy Viennese humour. Yet the power of Mozart’s music ensures that there is no sense of incongruity. Among the ‘low’ characters, the children of nature, Papageno and Papagena, contrast with the Moor Monostatos, who sings in a frenetic buffo style. The hard glitter of the Queen of Night’s music is set against the grave nobility of the numbers for Sarastro and the priests. At the centre are the two lovers, Pamina and Tamino, and it is they who, in the two extended finales, dominate the opera’s crucial scenes. The spiritual climax is the trial scene in the second finale, beginning with the Lutheran chorale of the two Armed Men and culminating in the lovers’ final union. Pamina’s ‘Tamino mein!’ is the most sublime moment in the work, and the inspiring embodiment of its central message of human enlightenment and redemption.

Composed: 1791
Premiered: 1791, Vienna
Libretto by Emanuel Schikaneder

Act I

Prince Tamino, trying to escape a serpent, faints. Three ladies-in-waiting to the Queen of Night, in whose realm the action takes place, appear, kill the serpent and then leave. Papageno, the Queen’s feathered bird catcher, arrives and tells Tamino, who has regained consciousness, that it was he who saved him. The ladies then reappear, padlocking Papageno’s mouth and showing Tamino a portrait of Pamina, the Queen of Night’s daughter. Tamino falls in love with Pamina and is told that she has been imprisoned by the evil Sarastro. The Queen of Night appears, lamenting the loss of her daughter. She promises Pamina to Tamino if he and Papageno will rescue her. The ladies remove the padlock from Papageno’s mouth and issue him with some magic chimes to ensure his safety; to Tamino they give a magic flute. They are also to be accompanied by three Genii.

In Sarastro’s palace, the Moor Monostatos is forcing his attentions upon Pamina. Papageno appears, frightening Monostatos away. He recognizes Pamina, and tells her of Tamino’s love for her and her imminent rescue. The three Genii lead Tamino to three temples. He enters one and encounters a High Priest, who reveals that Sarastro is not evil, but a wise and noble man. Tamino plays the magic flute and charms the wild animals. He hears Papageno’s panpipes and goes to find him.

Papageno enters with Pamina. They are almost captured by Monostatos, but Papageno uses his magic chimes to...

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