Mozart's Magic Flute

Scene from the First Act


Queen of the Night............................Soprano
Pamina, her daughter.......................Soprano
Monostatos, a moor..........................Tenor
Three Ladies of the Queen..............Sopranos, Alto
Three Boys.........................................Sopranos, Alto
Two Guards........................................Tenor, Baritone
Slaves, Priests

Place: In the Orient.  Time: Sometimes

Three worlds meet in the Magic Flute:  the underworld (of the Queen of the Night and Monostatos), the world of simple, sensuous humans (of Papageno and Papagena), and the world of enlightened, wise humanity ( of Sarastro and his priests).  The truly searching and loving man who is ready to make sacrifices (Tamino) has to pass through all three of these worlds courageously and steadfastly, before he is initiated into the order of noble-minded, enlightened men.  However, as this 18th-century opera maintains, only men can experience such growth directly, while women (Pamina) can only accompany men but not strive for the same goals with them.

Three solemn trombone calls open the overture, followed by a brief, quiet pause, after which a fugato begins.  

Beginning of the Overture

This knocking and hammering is sometimes described as the action of jewelers who are busy hammering ornaments into pure gold.  The fugue-like sound of this hammering might, perhaps, point towards the solemnity and real purpose of it:  man is also a precious material that has to be hammered on in order to bend it into shape.  Thus, the trombone chords and the fugato form the basic material of the overture.  It is written in E-flat Major; scholars point out that Mozart often resorted to this and to its parallel key, E Minor, when he wanted to point toward the solemn, serious world of Sarastro.

First Act.

Prince Tamino is pursued by a snake; he has shot his last arrows and sinks down to the ground into unconsciousness.  Three ladies of the Queen of the Night kill the snake.  Curious and enticed by his looks, they observe the good-looking young man.  Each lady asks the other ladies to leave and report this event to the queen, and each one of them wants to remain behind to "protect" the Prince.   Since they all see through each other's plans, they finally leave together.  When Tamino awakens from his unconsciousness, he sees Papageno, a funny man dressed in a feather costume.  Papageno's entrance song, "Der Vogelfänger bin ich ja" (I am the bird catcher, after all) has almost become a folk tune.  The three returning ladies hand Tamino a picture of Pamina, the daughter of the Queen of the Night.  Tamino looks at it as if mesmerized, falls in love with it and sings his aria, "Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön" (this image is enchantingly beautiful).  The three ladies tell him that Pamina had been robbed by the evil Sarastro and that Tamino should free her.  At this moment, the Queen arrives.  In her great coloratura aria, which is introduced by a brief recitative  ("O zittre nicht, mein lieber Sohn" [Oh, do not tremble, my dear son]), she can express her motherly grief, in spite of the incredibly long coloratura passages she has to sing.   When Tamino comes to his senses, the Queen of the Night has already vanished, again.  To help Tamino and Papageno in their quest to save Pamina, the three ladies hand each of them a gift:  Tamino receives a magic flute, Papageno a glockenspiel, both of which are supposed to protect them from the dangers they might be facing.   This passage is musically very beautifully expressed in "Silberglöckchen, Zauberflöten sind zu Eurem Schutz vonnöten" (Silver bells and magic flutes are required for your protection) and also in the almost unearthly beauty of the ladies' announcement of the help of three boys that will accompany the travelers, "Drei Knaben, jung, schön, hold und weise, begleiten Euch auf Eurer Reise (three boys, beautiful, virtuous and wise, will accompany you on your journey)."


Pamina has fled Sarastro's palace.  However, the moor Monostatos has caught her and brings her back.  At this very moment, Papageno appears on the scene.  The moor and the bird catcher look at each other in fright  ("Hu! Das ist - der Teu-fel si-cherlich!" ["Oh, that must surely be the devil!"]) and run away into different directions.  Papageno is the first who comes to his senses, and he introduces himself to Pamina as a messenger from her mother, the nightly Queen, and wants to look for Tamino with her. --  The theatre is transformed into a grove.  Three boys accompany Tamino and remind him to be steadfast, patient and discreet, "Sei standhaft, duldsam und verschwiegen!" (Be patient, steadfast and discreet).  After this lyrical trio of the three boys, a new musical world is opening up:  Mozart is described by many scholars as having, for the first time, taken  t h e  decisive step that would lead to a particularly German opera style, namely with Tamino's pondering recitative "Die Weisheitslehre dieser Knaben sei ewig mir ins Herz gegraben" (The teachings of wisdom of these boys shall be written into my heart forever) which, on the face of it, appears to have been written in Italian recitativo style; in reality, Mozart is allowing the action to proceed inwardly by the vocal expression that he lends Tamino's recitative which expresses the emotional changes Tamino is undergoing and that also expresses how this influences the further course of the action.  This new operatic recitative becomes even more apparent in the next passage.  Tamino approaches a door of Sarastro's palace and hears a terrible "Zurück!" (back!), which is also heard when he approaches the second door.  However, the third door opens automatically when he approaches it, and a priest emerges.  The dialogue between Tamino and the priest, in which the latter attempts to convince Tamino of Sarastro's goodness, almost appears to anticipate Wagner's later dramatic style of fifty years in the future.   -- Voices from above announce to Tamino that Pamina is still alive; relieved, he plays his flute, and wild animals approach to listen to him.  From behind the scene, Papageno's response can be heard.  He rushes in at Pamina's side at the very moment at which Tamino has left to look for him.  Finally, the angry moor also appears with his slaves  ("Nur geschwinde, nur geschwinde" [Let us just hurry, let us just hurry]) in order to tie the two up.  However, Papageno quickly plays his glockenspiel--mesmerized, the moors have to dance to its melody and dance away.  As short as this passage is, it is one of the most effective, serene and artistically accomplished scenes in opera music, yet it has been created with the simplest means:  a small male chorus sings a simple, folk-like song, "Das klinget so herrlich".

Das klinget so herrlich...

Also the following duet with Pamina and Papageno,  ("Könnte jeder brave Mann solche Glöckchen finden" [Could but every brave man find such silver bells]) appears to have been written for a pastoral scene rather than for a stage scene. -- The solemn chorus of the priests is heard, and Sarastro enters, calms Pamina down and re-assures her in a friendly manner.  Also Tamino, who is dragged in by Monostatos, is not punished by Sarastro, but sincerely welcomed.  Only the moor receives a punishment of seventy-seven lashes on the soles of his feet for his pursuit of Pamina.  When he cries out,"Ach Herr, den Lohn verhoff ich nicht" (My master, I did not expect this reward], Sarastro sarcastically replies with, "Nicht Dank, es ist ja meine Pflicht (do not thank me, it is my duty, after all)." The first act is concluded by a great chorus in praise of virtue and justice.

Second Act.

A solemn march of the priest opens the second act.  The priests concur with Sarastro that the two strangers (meaning the men, Tamino and Papageno) should undergo an initiation (aria with chorus, "O Isis und Osiris" [O Isis and Osiris]). -- Tamino and Papageno are led into an entrance hall of the temple.  Tamino wants to subject himself to the initiation rites in order to attain the highest wisdom.   However, Papageno declines this offer and is content as long as he has enough to eat and to drink.  Only when he is promised a wife that is his equal in coloring and appearance, does he also agree to undergo the initiation rites.   (In the duet of the priests, "Bewahret Euch vor Weibertücken: dies ist des Bundes erste Pflicht" (Beware of women's schemes:  this is the first duty of our covenant), a dark sense of humor flares up:  perhaps, Mozart and Schikaneder also wanted to express that during the Josephinian era in Vienna, many men joined the Masonic lodges not only for the attainment of wisdom and enlightenment, but also to escape their wives' influence.)  The three ladies appear and attempt to cast doubts as to Sarastro's honorable intention in the minds of Tamino and Papageno.  However, in spite of a few lapses on the part of Papageno, the two men resist these attempts and remain silent.


Pamina is asleep in the nightly garden.  The moor wants to take another chance with Pamina.  His passion for her erupts, and it finds expression in his aria, "Alles fühlt der Liebe Freuden (everyone feels the joys of love)", which is a musically daring piece with its excited flute passages (with the piccolo flute) and the hammering string instruments.  Just when the moor wants to descend on Pamina, the Queen of the Night appears.  She demands from her daughter that she should kill Sarastro.  Pamina is appalled, yet the Queen of the Night flares up in anger,  "Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen (the vengeance of hell is boiling in my heart)" (there appears to be an inner similarity to the sensually 'boiling' aria of the moor). After the Queen has vanished again, Monostatos returns; he has heard everything and demands from Pamina that she should become his lover, lest he will uncover her mother's plot.  However, Sarastro appears on the scene and thus saves Pamina.  The moor retreats in order "nun bei der Mutter zu versuchen (to try his luck with the mother, instead)". Sarastro dispells Pamina's fears that he would take revenge on her, since "In diesen heil'gen Hallen kennt man die Rache nicht (in these hallowed halls, revenge is unknown)".


Tamino and Papageno are led into a hall; once more, they are ordered to remain silend.  Papageno chats with an old woman; however, just when it would be her turn to tell him her name (she is Papagena in disguise), a thunderclap is heard, and the old woman hurries off.  Papageno is consoled rather quickly when the three boys bring them food as well as the glockenspiel and the magic flute.  Pamina appears, happy, to have found Tamino again -- he does not speak a word with her, although he mortally wounds her soul with it.  In Pamina's farewell aria, "Ach, ich fühl's, es ist verschwunden ewig hin der Liebe Glück (Oh, I feel it, it has vanished forever, the joy of love)" we can hear that simple expression of melancholy that we can hear very often from Mozart.


The three boys (who, in the meantime, have switched over into the service of Sarastro), are standing in a garden.  The trio, "Bald prangt, den Morgen zu verkünden"  (soon, the sun will appear in order to announce the morning), belongs to the most sensitive and harmonious music that Mozart has ever writen. Pamina approaches; in her despair, she wants to take her life.  However, the three boys prevent this and lead her to Tamino.


In a mountain to the right, a might fire is burning, in another mountain, a thundering waterfall is crashing down.  Two guards accompany Tamino and read an inscription to him that can be seen above these ensuing dangers,  "Der, welcher wandert diese Strasse voll Beschwerden . . .  (He who wanders these difficult paths)."  This song is an old choral melody of a serious character.  Accompanied by a flute, an oboe, a bassoon and a trombone, the two guards sing this melody in unison.  The solemn character of this is intensified by a fugue-like string accompaniment (this fugato and the key of c Minor reveal an inner relationship to the overture).

Der welcher wandelt diese Strasse

-- Pamina approaches; she is now allowed to accompany Tamino on his path.  When the voices of Tamino, Pamina and of the two guards sing, "Wir wandeln durch des Tones Macht (we wander through the might of the tone)", an unearthly sublime world opens up.  The melody of the magic flute that is accompanied by the kettle drum and the wind instruments, sets in, and the young couple walks through fire and water unscathed.   In delight and relief, Tamino and Pamina sing,  "Wir wandern durch die Feuersgluten ... (we walk through the burning fire)", and again, we hear unearthly music.  In glowing beauty, the temple of Isis appears before them.  A chorus of the priests completes this solemn scene.  Like in a magic trance, the young couple walks toward the temple.


Papageno did not pass his initiation rites and can also not find his wife.  As much as he calls out, "Papagena, liebes Täubchen! Papagena, Herzensweibchen! (Papagena, dear little dove, Papagena, dear little wife of my heart" -- there is no reply.  Well, then he wants to hang himself, "Diesen Baum da will ich zieren (this tree here, I want to decorate)." Just when he goes about his awkward preparations for this, the three boys remind him of his glockenspiel.  Where he did not succeed with his calling-out, he is successful with his glockenspiel:  the bird-like girl appears.  And the two bird-like humans welcome each other in style with, "Pa-Pa-Pa-Pa-Pa-Pa- Pagena" and "Pa-Pa-Pa-Pa-Pa-Pa-Pageno". Without further ado, the united couple confesses that they wish for many little Papagenos and Papagenas. After they have run off hand in hand, the Queen of the Night and her three ladies appear with the moor, Monostatos.  In a sinister quintet in the c Minor key, they plot to storm Sarastro's temple, to free Pamina and make her the moor's wife.  However, under thunder and storm, the stage is transformed into a glorious image of the sun, and the dark powers have to vanish before it.  The priests, Sarastro, the three boys as well as Tamino and Pamina appear.  A chorus, "Heil sei euch Geweihten (hail to the wise and noble)" ends the opera in the E-flat key, in the key of the overture:

"Es siegte die Stärke und krönet zum Lohn (strength won and crowns as reward)
Die Schönheit und Weisheit mit ewiger Kron' (beauty and wisdom with its eternal crown)!"


(Sources:  See 'Sources' in the Creation History Page).

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