The Magic Flute

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Poetry & Opera

Operas by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Die Schuldigkeit des ersten Gebotes (1767)
Apollo et Hyacinthus (1767)
Bastien und Bastienne (1768)
La finta semplice (1769)
Mitridate, re di Ponto (1770)
Ascanio in Alba (1771)
Il sogno di Scipione (1772)
Lucio Silla (1772)
La finta giardiniera (1775)
Il re pastore (1775)
Thamos, König in Ägypten (1779)
Zaide (1780)
Idomeneo (1781)
Die Entführung aus dem Serail (1782)
L'oca del Cairo (1783)
Lo sposo deluso (1784)
Der Schauspieldirektor (1786)
The Marriage of Figaro (1786)
Don Giovanni (1787)
Così fan tutte (1790)
The Magic Flute (1791)
La clemenza di Tito (1791)

Die Zauberflöte, K. 620, (en: The Magic Flute) is an opera in two acts composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to a German libretto by Emanuel Schikaneder. The work is in the form of a Singspiel, a popular form which included both singing and spoken dialogue.

Performance history

It premiered in Vienna on September 30, 1791. The premiere was at an out-of-town but not obscure theatre. Schikaneder himself played Papageno, while the role of the Queen was sung by Mozart's sister-in-law Josepha Hofer. The opera garnered only a lukewarm reception at the time of its opening but slowly gained popularity, thanks to Schikaneder's extensive publicizing, and celebrated its 100th performance in November 1792. Unfortunately, Mozart did not have the pleasure of witnessing this milestone, as he had died on December 5, 1791, barely two months after the opera's premiere. Today, Die Zauberflöte is one of the most beloved works in the operatic repertoire, and is presently the 10th most frequently performed opera in North America, according to Opera America.


The opera is often noted for its prominent Masonic elements. Both Schikaneder and Mozart were Masons and lodge brothers, though the Freemasons were at the time regarded by the public at large as a dangerous and subversive organization. The opera is also heavily influenced by Enlightenment philosophy, and can be regarded as an allegory espousing enlightened absolutism. The Queen of the Night represents irrational-diabolic obscurantism, whereas her antagonist Sarastro symbolises the reasonable sovereign who rules with paternalistic wisdom and enlightened insight. In the end he prevails over the darkness ("The sun's rays drive away the night, destroy the evil power of the dissembler"). But the darkness is by no means frightening and abhorrent, but beautiful, mysterious and fascinating. As an awesome seductress the Queen of the Night is a dangerous power who can only be overcome by knowledge; and since Papageno refers to her as "the Star-flaming Queen" (die Sternflammende Königin), it seems that light is not the exclusive province of the good crowd.

Many of the melodies are highly familiar, and include the Papageno/Papagena duet and the coloratura aria, "Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen" ("The vengeance of Hell boils in my heart"), often referred to as the "Queen of the Night" aria, which reaches a high F6 (see Scientific pitch notation) – this opera is one of the few classical operas known to have singers reach this note. In fact, it is very common amongst musicians to refer to this note as "Queen of the Night F", especially in European countries.

A notable feature of the music is the way in which Mozart was able to write for a range of skill-sets in the singers. Compare, for example, the vocal lines for Monostatos (which are easy, "obvious" lines to sing for a modest voice, are also often stated first in strings so the singer can find his pitch; and which are doubled as he sings, to give him the tune) with those of Pamina or the Queen of the Night (which give few such clues for the singer and demand decent operatic ability). Yet, in ensembles, Mozart manages to combine voices of virtuosos with those of what are essentially comic actors, and create a satisfying result. The F6 which the Queen of the Night must reach in both her arias is beyond the range of many first-rate sopranos. At the low end, Sarastro must sing an F at several points; it requires a good bass to hit the note impressively, but the note does not go below the range of the choral basses.

Note that while the female roles in the opera are assigned to different voice types, Mozart referred to all his female singers as "sopranos", although he did not intend all the roles to be sung by actual sopranos. The voice type required for the part is judged by the melody itself and its tessitura and also which singers performed in the early performances.


Emanuel Schikaneder as Papageno in Mozart's Die Zauberflöte.
Emanuel Schikaneder as Papageno in Mozart's Die Zauberflöte.
  • Principal roles
    • Tamino - tenor
    • Papageno - baritone
    • Pamina - soprano
    • The Queen of the Night - coloratura soprano
    • Sarastro - bass
  • Minor roles
    • Three ladies - two sopranos and one mezzo-soprano
    • Monostatos - tenor
    • Three Boys (or genii) - trebles (or a treble, an alto and a mezzo-soprano)
    • Speaker of the temple - bass
    • Two priests - tenor and bass
    • Papagena - soprano
    • Two armored men - tenor and bass
  • Other
    • Priests, women, people, slaves - chorus


Overview: Sarastro, the wise priest of Isis and Osiris, has taken Pamina to the temple for the humane purpose of releasing her from the influence of her mother, the Queen of the Night. The queen induces the young Prince Tamino to go in search of her daughter and free her from the power of Sarastro; Tamino accomplishes his end, but becomes the disciple of Sarastro, whose mildness and wisdom he has learned to admire. The prince and the princess are united.

Act I

Tamino, a handsome prince who is lost in the forest, is pursued by a serpent. He faints from fatigue and three ladies, attendants of the queen, in black robes, appear and kill the serpent. They all fall in love with the prince and each plans to be alone with him. Through their arguing, they decide that it is best if they all leave together.

Tamino recovers, and sees before him Papageno, arrayed entirely in the plumage of birds. His entrance aria tells of his job as a birdcatcher and the fact that he is longing for a wife. Tamino approaches Papageno and asks who he is. Papageno jokes with Tamino but says that he brings the birds that he catches to the Queen of the Night's servants, who give him food and drink in return. Tamino thinks that Papageno has saved him from the serpent and Papageno claims that he has strangled the serpent. At this moment, the three ladies appear and punish his lie by paying for his birds with a stone instead of food and water instead of wine, and by placing a padlock over his mouth. They tell Tamino that they were responsible for saving him. He deeply appreciates them and they show to the prince a miniature of a young maiden, Pamina, upon which he gazes in ecstasy. (Aria: Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön)

The Queen of the Night now appears, demanding that Tamino free her daughter, the original of the picture, from the hands of Sarastro, promising that he can marry Pamina in return. (Recitative and aria: O zittre nicht) The ladies give Tamino a magic flute that can change men's hearts, remove the padlock from Papageno and present him with a chime of bells to protect him. Papageno accompanies Tamino, and they set forth, guided by three boys. They escape all danger by the use of the magic instruments. (Quintet: Hm hm hm hm)

Change of scene (this scene forms Act II when the opera is divided into three acts): A room in Sarastro's palace.

Pamina is dragged in by Sarastro's servant Monostatos, a moor, who is persecuting her. Papageno arrives and announces to her that her mother has sent Tamino to her aid. Monostatos is terrified by Papageno's strange appearance and takes to flight. (Trio: Du feines Täubchen, nun herein!) Pamina and Papageno both talk of their desires, which turn out to be love. (Duet: Bei Männern)

Change of scene: Grove and entrance to the temples.

The three boys lead in the prince. As Tamino reaches the temple, he is denied entrance at the Gates of Nature and Reason, but at the Gate of Wisdom, a priest appears and reveals to him the noble character of Sarastro. When Papageno appears with Pamina all three are about to escape, but are prevented by Monostatos. Sarastro and chorus enter. (Chorus) Pamina falls at his feet and confesses that she was trying to escape because Monostatos had demanded her love. Sarastro receives her kindly and tells her that he will not force her inclinations, but cannot give her freedom. He punishes Monostatos for his insolence and leads Tamino and Papageno into the temple of Ordeal.

Act II

Grove of palms. The council of priests determines that Tamino shall possess Pamina if he succeeds in passing through the ordeal, as they do not wish to return her to her mother, who has already infected the people with superstition. (Aria, Sarastro: "O Isis und Osiris" and chorus)

Change of scene: The courtyard of the temple of Ordeal.

Tamino and Papageno are led into the temple. Tamino is cautioned that this is his last chance to turn back, but he states that he will undergo every trial to win his Pamina. Papageno is asked if he will also concede to every trial, but he says that he doesn't really want wisdom or to struggle to get it. The priest tells Papageno that Sarastro may have a woman for him if he undergoes the trials, and that she is called Papagena. Papageno says that he wouldn't mind a look at her to be sure, but the priest says that he must keep silent. Papageno finally agrees.

The first test is that Tamino and Papageno shall remain silent under the temptation of women. (Duet, Speaker and Priest) The three ladies appear, and tempt them to speak. (Quintet, Papageno, Tamino, Three Ladies) Tamino and Papageno remain firm, though Tamino must constantly tell Papageno,"Still!"

Papageno confronts one of the priests and asks why he must undergo tests if Sarastro already has a woman that wants to be his wife. The priest says that it is the only way.

Change of scene: A garden. Pamina asleep.

Monostatos approaches and gazes upon her with rapture. (Aria, Monostatos: "Alles fühlt der Liebe Freuden") When the Queen of the Night appears and gives Pamina a dagger with which to kill Sarastro (Aria, Queen of the Night: " Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen"), Monostatos retires and listens. He tries to force Pamina's love by using the secret, but is prevented by Sarastro, who allays Pamina's alarm. (Aria, Sarastro: "In diesen heil'gen Hallen")

Change of scene: A hall in the temple of Ordeal.

Tamino and Papageno must again suffer the test of silence. Papageno can no longer hold his tongue, but Tamino remains firm, even when Pamina speaks to him. Since Tamino refuses to answer, Pamina believes he loves her no longer. (Aria, Pamina: "Ach, ich fühl's, es ist verschwunden")

Change of scene (sometimes used as Act III): The pyramids.

(Chorus) Sarastro parts Pamina and Tamino. (Trio, Sarasto, Pamina, Tamino) Papageno also desires to have his little wife. (Aria, Papageno: "Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen") At the first ordeal, an old woman had appeared to him and declared herself his bride. She now again appears and changes herself into the young and pretty Papagena. However, she vanishes and Papageno is miserable.

Change of scene: An open country.

The three boys prevent Pamina from committing suicide because she believes Tamino to be faithless.

Change of scene: Rocks with water and a cavern of fire.

Men in armor lead in Tamino. Pamina arrives and is overcome with joy to find Tamino, who is now allowed to speak to her. Both pass unscathed through the final ordeal of fire and water with the help of the magic flute, which Pamina tells him was carved by her father from an ancient oak tree. Papageno wishes to take his life because he can't stop thinking about Papagena, but acts merrily when the boys advise him to use his magic bells to summon the image of Papagena. (Duet, Papageno, Papagena: "Papageno! Papagena!") The traitorous Monostatos appears with the Queen of the Night and her ladies to destroy the temple, but they are magically cast out. (Finale: "Nur stille, stille") The scene now changes to the entrance of the chief temple, where Sarastro bids the young lovers welcome and unites them.

Noted arias

  • " O zittre nicht, mein lieber Sohn" ("Oh, tremble not, my beloved son"), The Queen of the Night
  • " Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen" ("The vengeance of Hell boils within my heart"), The Queen of the Night
  • "Ach, ich fühl's, es ist verschwunden" ("Ah, I feel it, it is gone"), Pamina
  • " Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön" ("This image is enchantingly beautiful"), Tamino
  • "Der Vogelfänger bin ich ja" ("The birdcatcher am I"), Papageno
  • "Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen" ("A girl or a woman"), Papageno
  • "In diesen heil'gen Hallen" ("Within these sacred halls"), Sarastro. ( George Bernard Shaw said this is the only song ever written that sounds as if it could be sung by God the Father Himself.)
  • "O Isis und Osiris" ("O Isis and Osiris"), Sarastro
  • "Alles fühlt der Liebe Freuden" ("All feel the joys of love"), Monostatos



  • In Trollflöjten, Ingmar Bergman's acclaimed 1975 film version, the opera is sung in Swedish although the sound was not actually recorded in synch with the photography. Bergman makes a major change in the plot: Sarastro is Pamina's father, and has a good claim, morally and legally, to her custody. In addition, the Three Boys introduce themselves, instead of being introduced by the Queen's Three Ladies; thus, in Bergman's version it is obvious from the first that the Three Boys are not in the Queen's service.
  • The Magic Flute, a new film version, set during World War I, was presented at the Venice Film Festival in September 2006. It was directed by Kenneth Branagh with a libretto by Stephen Fry .


  • John Updike, A children's book based on The Magic Flute, 1962.
  • Marion Zimmer Bradley, Night's Daughter, a novel based on The Magic Flute, 1985. It sets the story in an Atlantis-like world with human-animal hybrid creatures. Bradley enthusiastically agrees with Bergman that Sarastro is Pamina's father.
  • Cameron Dokey, Sunlight and Shadow, (part of the Once Upon A Time series), 2004, a retelling of The Magic Flute for teen readers; Dokey's novel also states that Sarastro is Pamina's father.


  • Arctic Magic Flute is an English-language adaptation of the opera, set in rural Alaska.
  • "Weekend Meeting", a Vietnamese humorous show used some parts of "The Magic Flute" in their good-bye show.
  • "(Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre)Mozart's The Magic Flute selected excerpts in concert with the KLPac Sinfornietta" was performed by the KLPac Sinfonietta. Featuring the talents of Peter Ong, Tan Sin Sim, Irma Lailatul Munira, Janet Lee, James Long, John Tan, Kho Mei Ling and Wang DiXia.


  • Pamina Devi is the Cambodian classical dance adaption of The Magic Flute. However, its not entirely based on the same plot and includes elements foreign to the original.


  • The "Queen of the Night" Aria was covered by a Korean band called " Banya". Their version of the song is called "Chimera" and it's featured in the latest Pump It Up Dancing Game.
  • In the Simpsons episode, Margical History Tour, Bart played Mozart and wrote the opera, The Magic Fruit, obviously based on The Magic Flute.
  • Guitarist Fernando Sor wrote a famous set of variations on 'O Dolce Harmonia' entitled "Variations on a Theme from The Magic Flute, Op. 9". He also arranged six arias from The Magic Flute for solo guitar.
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