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The Magic Flute

Opera Background

ComposerWolfgang Amadeus Mozart
LibrettistEmanuel Schikaneder
Date of PremierSeptember 30, 1791
Number of ActsTwo
Music LengthTwo Hours, Thirty Minutes

The Magic Flute (German: “Die Zauberflöte”) is nothing short of a wild ride from start to finish. It premiered in 1791, just a couple months before Mozart’s death, and was extremely popular right from the start.

Set in a fantasy land with mythical creatures and magic items, The Magic Flute follows the hero Tamino as he is set on a journey to get his dream woman, Pamina. Priests, temples, slaves, serpents, and much more come into play in this opera full of twists and turns.

Quick Answers

What is The Magic Flute about?

The Magic Flute is about a hero that is set on a quest to an evil demon’s temple to rescue his to-be wife. Once there, he realizes the demon is the leader of a devout following of which he and his to-be wife share similar high ideals and virtues. He goes through trials, joining the temple and vanquishes those that originally sent him on his quest.

Where is The Magic Flute set?

The Magic flute is set in a fantasy land of forests, mountains and mythical creatures.


  • Tamino, a prince (tenor)
  • Papageno, a bird catcher (baritone)
  • The Queen of the Night (soprano)
  • Pamina, her daughter (soprano)
  • Sarastro, high priest of Isis (bass)
  • Monostatos, chief slave of the temple (baritone)
  • Papagena (soprano)
  • Three Ladies, attendants to the Queen (sopranos, mezzo-sopranos)
  • Three Spirits, boys (treble, alto, mezzo-soprano)
  • Speaker of the temple (bass-baritone)
  • Three priests (tenor, basses)
  • Two men in armor (tenor, bass)
  • Three slaves (tenors, bass)

Musical Numbers

Act 1 Musical Numbers

  • Overture
  • “Zu Hilfe! zu Hilfe! sonst bin ich verloren”: The prince is saved from the serpent by three ladies
  • “Der Vogelfänger bin ich ja”: Bird catcher Papageno introduces himself
  • “Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön”: The queen arrives and sends Tamino to save her daughter
  • “Hm! hm! hm! hm!”: The three ladies gift Tamino and Papageno with a magic flute and silver bells to send them on their journey
  • “Du feines Täubchen, nur herein”: Pamina is dragged on to the stage by Chief Slave Monostatos
  • “Bey Männern, welche Liebe fühlen”: Papageno and Pamina sing of the beauty of love
  • “Zum Ziele führt dich diese Bahn”: The three boys lead Tamino on the right path
  • “Die Weisheitslehre dieser Knaben”: Tamino enters Sarastro’s temple
  • “Wie stark ist nicht dein Zauberton”: Tamino plays the magic flute
  • “Könnte jeder brave Mann”: Papageno and Pamina marvel at the power of the bells
  • “Es lebe Sarastro!”: Sarastro arrives surrounded by his followers
  • “Herr, ich bin zwar Verbrecherinn!”: Sarastro declares a man must guide Pamina’s heart, and not her mother
  • “Nun stolzer Jüngling, nur hieher!”: Tamino and Pamina meet for the first time
  • “Wenn Tugend und Gerechtigkeit”: Tamino and Pamina are purified together in the temple

Act 2 Musical Numbers

  • “Marsch der Priester”
  • “O Isis und Osiris”: Sarastro and the priests pray for Tamino
  • “Bewahret euch vor Weibertücken”: The priests prepare Tamiono and Papageno for the first trial
  • “Wie? Wie? Wie?”: The three ladies appear for the first trial
  • “Alles fühlt der Liebe Freuden”: Monostatos sings of the joys of love
  • “Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen”: The queen orders Pamina to kill Sarastro
  • “In diesen heil’gen Hallen”: Sarastro sings of the peace and forgiveness of his realm
  • “Seyd uns zum zweytenmal willkommen”: The flute and bells are returned to Tamino and Papageno by the three spirits
  • “Ach ich fühls, es ist verschwunden”: Pamina is heartbroken when Tamino refuses to speak to her
  • “O Isis und Osiris, welche Wonne!”: The chorus of priests celebrate Tamino’s approaching success
  • “Soll ich dich, Theurer! nicht mehr seh’n?”: Tamino and Pamina say farewell
  • “Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen”: Papageno expresses his desire for a wife
  • “Bald prangt, den Morgen zu verkünden”: The three spirits announce Pamina’s despair
  • “Du also bist mein Bräutigam?”: The three spirits keep Pamina from taking her own life
  • “Der, welcher wandert diese Strasse voll Beschwerden”: The priests prepare Tamino for his final trial
  • “Tamino mein! O welch ein Glück!”: Pamina declares she will be by Tamino’s side for the final trial
  • “Wir wandelten durch Feuergluthen”: Tamino and Pamina sing of their success in the final trial
  • “Papagena! Papagena! Papagena!”: Papageno is in despair from losing Papagena
  • “Pa…pa…pa…”: Finally reunited, Papageno and Papagena sing of their joy, their courtship, and future family
  • Nur stille! stille! stille! stille!“: Monostatos and the queen prepare to attack the temple
  • “Heil sey euch Geweihten!”: Tamino and Pamina are praised for their triumph

The Magical Flute Full Synopsis

Act 1 Synopsis

The first act opens with Tamino, a handsome price being chased in through a mountainous terrain by a giant serpent (“Zu Hilfe! zu Hilfe! sonst bin ich verloren” – “Help! Help! Or I am lost”). He prays to the gods to help him, and as the serpent closes in three ladies call out and kill the serpent, saving the prince. They make remarks of how handsome the man is, and agree to report the situation to their queen. They take turns trying to convince the other two to go while they stay to look over him. After expressing their infatuation with the prince, they decide to all leave together.

“Zu Hilfe! zu Hilfe! sonst bin ich verloren” performed in Salzburg, 2006

Tamino wakes up and is confused as to where he is and what has happened. He sees the a figure approaching and hides. Papageno introduces himself saying he is a bird catcher known all throughout the land (“Der Vogelfänger bin ich ja” – “the bird catcher, that’s me”). He sings of his longing for a girlfriend and wife, and wishes he could catch them like he catches birds.

“Der Vogelfänger bin ich ja” performed by Roderick Williams at the Royal Opera house

Tamino calls out to Papageno and they introduce themselves. Papageno tells Tamino that he catches spectacular birds for the “star-blazing queen”, who nobody has seen through her black veil. Tamino identifies her as the “night queen” from stories his father used to tell. Mistakenly assuming that Papageno was the one who slayed the serpent, he asks how he did it with no weapons. As Papageno begins to take credit for the kill, the three ladies arrive again and reprimand him. Angered, they put a golden lock on his mouth for his lies. Turning to Tamino, they tell him they have slayed the serpent, and telling him joy awaits, deliver a picture from the queen of the queen’s daughter. Tamino is entranced by the portrait, and is filled with emotion (“Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön” – “This portrait is enchantingly beautiful”). He yearns for the woman in the picture.

1983 recording of Francisco Araiza singing the aria “Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön”

The ladies reappear and tell Tamino that the queen has resolved to make him happy if he is as valiant as he is handsome. They inform him that the queen’s daughter (named Pamina) has been abducted by an evil, shapeshifting demon. He demands the ladies to take him to the villain, and vows to defeat him. But they are interrupted by a loud crash of thunder, signifying the arrival of the queen. The queen arrives and tells Tamino of her grief from having her daughter taken from her (“O zittre nicht, mein lieber Sohn!” – “Do not tremble, my dear son!”). She tells him that he shall be her savior, and if he succeeds he shall have her forever.

“O zittre nicht, mein lieber Sohn!” performed by Sabine Devieilhe

The queen departs and Tamino is left with Papageno on the stage. Papageno tries to speak but is muted by the lock on his mouth (“Hm! Hm! Hm! Hm!”).The three ladies arrive to release the lock from his mouth, but tell him to never lie again. They give Tamino a gift from the queen, a magic flute that will protect him even in the gravest misfortune. They instruct that Papageno shall accompany Tamino to the Evil Demon Sarastro’s castle. fearing for his life, he refuses, but given beautiful silver bells he agrees to serve Tamino on his quest. They tell the two that three boys will appear to be their guides

Manfred Hemm(PAPAGENO) and Francisco Araiza(TAMINO) perform “Hm! Hm! Hm! Hm!”

Sarastro’s slaves enter talking about how their chief slave and tormentor Monostatos will be hung the following day, for Pamina has made an attempt to escape. Monostatos enters with Pamina, who has been captured (“Du feines Täubchen, nur herein” – “You sweet little dove, just come on in”). Pamina is not afraid of death, but worries for her mother. Papageno enters, and both Papageno and Monostatos are frightened at one another’s appearance and run away. But soon Papageno returns and sees Pamina, and tells her he was sent by the queen. Papageno tells her the story of how he came across the prince and her mother, and Pamina is joyous at the news of the prince and his love for her. Papageno is once more saddened at the fact that he doesn’t have a wife, and they sing about the beauty of love (“Bey Männern, welche Liebe fühlen” – “In men who feel love”)

Kathleen Battle and Manfred Hemm perform “Bey Männern, welche Liebe fühlen” at the MET in 1991

When the three spirits appear to guide Tamino, he askes them if he will succeed in rescuing Pamina (“Zum Ziele führt dich diese Bahn” – “This path leads to your goal”). They tell him to be constant, patient, and discreet and he will succeed. The prince finds himself at the temple of Sarastro (“Die Weisheitslehre dieser Knaben” – “Let these boys words of wisdom”). Tamino id filled with hope, and attempts to enter to the right, but is stopped by a chorus of voices telling him to go back. He tries for the left, but hears the same voices. With one door left, he enters through the middle, where he is met by the speaker of the temple. Tamino makes clear he is seeking the evil Sarastro, but the speaker asks him to elaborate on why he believes he is evil. The speaker reprimands him for believing in gossip, telling him he is unaware of Sarastro’s motives, and all will be made clear once he reaches the spirit of friendship. Given hope that Pamina is still living, Tamino begins to play his magic flute (“Wie stark ist nicht dein Zauberton” – “How powerful your magic sound is”), summoning animals that dance around him. He desperately calls out for Pamina, and hears Papageno’s pipes in the distance, and rushes off to follow it.

Charles Castronovo sings Tamino’s Act I aria during the final dress rehearsal at the Metropolitan Opera

As Tamino rushes off Papageno and Pamina enter looking for him (“Schnelle Füsse, rascher Muth” – “Swift steps, ready courage”). They hear Tamino’s flute answering them and are joyous before a moment before Pamina is captured again by Sarastro’s slaves. Panicked, Papageno begins to play his magic bells, sending the slaves into a whirl of merry song and dance, which they continue until they are off stage. Papageno and Pamina are shocked at the power of the bells (“Könnte jeder brave Mann” – “If every honest man”), but are interrupted at the cadence of Sarastro’s followers (“Es lebe Sarastro!” – “Long live Sarastro”).

Marisú Pavón (Pamina) Luciano Garay (Papageno) and Gabriel Centeno (Monostatos) perform “Schnelle Füsse, rascher Muth” at the Teatro Colón de Buenos Aires, Temporada in 2011.

Sarastro and all of his followers arrive on stage and Sarastro quickly finds Pamina at his feet. She tells him that she had attempted escape because Monostatos demanded her love (“Herr, ich bin zwar Verbrecherinn!” – “My lord, I have transgressed!”). Sarastro is kind to her, telling her he does not demand her love, but also will not grant her freedom either, for her mother is arrogant and he believes it must be a man that guides her heart. Monostatos bursts on to the stage with the rest of the slaves, dragging Tamino with them. Pamina and Tamino immediately recognize each other, and go to embrace but are stopped by Monostatos (“Nun stolzer Jüngling, nur hieher!” – “Now, proud youth, come here”).

“Nun stolzer Jüngling, nur hieher!” performed live in 2015

Monostatos addresses Sarastro telling him that he alone tracked down Tamino and awaits his reward, but is shocked when Sarastro orders him to be punished. Monostatos is dragged off, and Sarastro instructs his followers to take Pamina and Tamino to the temple of trial so that they may be purified. As they through the purification ceremony, the followers sing that Virtue and righteousness will make mortal men into gods (“Wenn Tugend und Gerechtigkeit” – “When virtue and righteousness”).

Act 2 Synopsis

Act 2 opens with servants of the gods Osiris and Isis marching onto the scene (“Marsch der Priester” – “March of the Priests”). They gather around Sarastro who tells them that Tamino is ready to be enlightened, and the gods have destined Pamina to be his bride (which is why he took her from her mother). The priests worry that Tamino won’t be able to handle the trials that he must go through, but Sarastro puts them at ease. Sarastro and the priests then pray to Isis and Osiris for protection and a successful outcome of the trials (“O Isis und Osiris”).

Franz Josef Selig sings “O Isis und Osiris”

Act 2 Synopsis

Tamino and Papageno are blindfolded, being led through a courtyard. Two priests ask if Tamino is prepared to go through all of the trials, to which he responds yes. The priest directs his attention to Papageno, who does not wish to go through the trials, but his mind is changed when the priests tells him that Sarastro will deliver a maiden just like him in age and appearance, a woman named Papagena. The priest tells them that women will soon appear, but they must not speak a word to them (“Bewahret euch vor Weibertücken” – “Beware of womenly wiles”). Once alone on stage, three women appear. They begin telling rumors of the queen, the priests, and their fate to get them to speak to them (“Wie? Wie? Wie?” – “What/ What? What?”). Papageno almost speaks to them, but Tamino reminds him of the task and successfully refrains from speaking to them, so the ladies withdraw.

“Wie? Wie? Wie?” performed in Salzburg in 2019

In the following scene, Monostatos complains after being whipped as punishment, and curses his heart for falling for Pamina. Yet he declares that if he knew he was alone and not being watched, he would attempt to go to her once more. He sneaks into Pamina’s bedroom while she is asleep, claiming that surely one little kiss isn’t cause for punishments. He sings of the joys of love (“Alles fühlt der Liebe Freuden” – “Everyone feels the joys of love”), and going in to kiss Pamina is interrupted by a thunderous crash followed by the entrance of the queen. He hides. The queen asks her daughter where Tamino is, and is told that he has gone off with Sarastro’s priests. The queen is unhappy and worried, for she explains that all of her power left when her husband died. Pamina asks her mother why she cannot love Tamino as a initiate of Sarastro , for her father was one and always spoke of Saratro’s virtue. Angered, the queen takes out a knife and giving it to Pamina demands she use it to kill Sarastro and seize his “sun-circle”, otherwise she will disown Pamina (“Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen” – “My heart is seething with hellish vengeance”).

the Queen of Night played by Diana Damrau and Pamina, her daughter portrayed by Dorothea Röschmann sing “”Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen””

Monostatos, overhearing the conversation tries to take advantage of her with his knowledge, but is tossed once Sarastro enters the room. Sarastro tells Pamina he knows her mother is travelling underground and planning vengence, but goes on to tell how in his castle there shall be no revenge or wrath (“In diesen heil’gen Hallen” – “Within these sacred halls”).

Hungarian bass László Polgár sings Sarastro’s second aria. Orchestra of the Drottningholm Court Theatre, conducted by Arnold Östman, 1989.

In the following scene, Tamino and Papageno are being left by the priests, who leave them with another warning to not speak, for whoever breaks their silence will be struck down by thunder and lightning by the gods. Papageno, complaining of thirst, is given a drink by a passing old woman. Teasing her, Papageno asks if she has a boyfriend, to which she responds yes and indicates that her boyfriend is Papageno himself! But before she has the chance to elaborate, she is scared off by a loud noise. The three spirits enter to give them the flute and bells, which were confiscated from them but Sarastro is now returning (“Seyd uns zum zweytenmal willkommen” – “Welcome a second time”). They tell Tamino that when they meet for a third time he will be rewarded.

Tamino begins to play his flute, and shortly after Pamina rushes on the stage, claiming she had ran to him once she heard the flute. But Tamino is determined to pass the trials, and keeps his vow of silence. Pamina wonders if he no longer loves her, and turns to ask Papageno what’s going on, but Papageno also refuses to speak to her, leaving her heartbroken (“Ach ich fühls, es ist verschwunden” – “Ah I sense it has vanished”).

Dorothea Röschmann sings “Ach ich fühls, es ist verschwunden”

The chorous of priests show up and begin to speak to the gods about how close Tamino is to succeeding and joining them in their service (“O Isis und Osiris, welche Wonne!” – “Oh Isis and Osiris, what bliss!”). Sarastro arrives and tells Tamino that he still has trails to complete, but if at the end he still wishes to marry Pamina the gods will approve. The priests bring Pamina in, who is shocked when Sarastro tells them to say a “final farewell”. They say their farewells, looking forward to a happy reunion, and Tamino departs (“Soll ich dich, Theurer! nicht mehr seh’n?” – “Am I to see you no more, dear one? “).

Left alone, Sarastro asks Papageno if he truly has no other wish than a glass of wine, to which Papageno respond “Until now, no”. Sarastro grants his wish, summoning a glass of wine for him. Papageno is joyful, But as he drinks he realizes that what he truly desires is a girl or a wife (“Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen” – “A girl or a little wife”).

Detlef Roth performs “Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen”

Suddenly, just as Papageno is expressing his desires, the old woman that he had met before appears and tells him that if he should vow to be eternally faithful to her his wish for a wife would come true. Papageno is hesitant, but is told that if he should refuse he will be chained to that dark place with no accompaniment and only water to drink forever. Fearing loneliness, he agrees to give the old woman his hand and agrees to be faithful to her until a prettier woman shows up. Suddenly the old woman transforms into Papagena, and the two are delighted until Sarastro returns and sends Papagena away claiming Papageno is not worthy of her. They exit.

The three boys appear once more to discuss Pamina, who is in considerable pain from the heartbreak of parting from Tamino (“Bald prangt, den Morgen zu verkünden” – “Soon, heralding the morning”). The spirits see Pamina with the knife given to her by her mother in her hand, ready to take her life due to her grief. just before she takes action the three spirits reinsure her of Tamino’s love, and agree to take her to him (“Du also bist mein Bräutigam?” – “You are my bridegroom then”).

Ekaterina Bakanova performing “Du also bist mein Braeutigam”

In the following scene, the two men in armor lead Tamino onto the stage, announcing that enlightenment awaits Tamino at the end of this trial (“Der, welcher wandert diese Strasse voll Beschwerden” – “Whoever walks along this path so full of troubles”). They also inform him that him and Pamina should no longer be seprated or forbiddin to speak to one another. They will go through this final trial together. Pamina arrives and vows to be at Tamino’s side during this trial (“Tamino mein! O welch ein Glück!” – “My Tamino! Oh what joy!”). Playing the magic flute for their protection, Tamino and Pamina come out of the trial successful to the delight of the crowd of followers (“Wir wandelten durch Feuergluthen” – “We have walked through flames”). They leave to enter the temple.

Papageno runs on stage distraught from losing Papagena. He is calling her name and searching for her to no avail (“Papagena! Papagena! Papagena!”). With his heart in pain, he resolves to put himself out of his misery by hanging himself from a tree.

Simon Keenlyside performs “Papagena! Papagena! Papagena!”

The three spirits appear and urge Papageno not to throw his life away. They instruct him to play his bells to summon Papagena, which he does and is successful! Papageno and Papagena, now reunited, sing of their love, courtship, and future children (“Pa…pa…pa”).

Christina Gansch and Roderick Williams sing the “Pa-, pa-, pa-“

In the following scene Monostatos enters with the Queen of the Night and her three ladies. They plan to attack Saratro’s temple, and in return for his help the queen will give Pamina to Monostatos (“Nur stille! stille! stille! stille!” – “Just keep quiet! quiet! quiet!”). However, a loud crash is heard, and they are suddenly cast off into an eternal night.

Back at the Temple, Sarastro and his followers praise Tamino and Pamina for casting out the darkness and praise their triumph (“Heil sey euch Geweihten!” – “Hail to you consecrated ones!”)