The magic flute
“Sensual gratification without a spiritual union is and remains bestial; afterwards, one has no trace of noble feeling, but rather remorse.” – Beethoven
Scene 1: A rough, rocky landscape
Tamino, a handsome prince who is lost in a distant land, is being pursued by a serpent and asks the gods to save him (quartet: “Zu Hilfe! Zu Hilfe!”). He faints and three ladies, attendants of the Queen of the Night, appear and kill the serpent. They admire Tamino for his handsomeness and youth. Each of the ladies tries to convince the other two to leave to tell their mistress about the young prince. After arguing, they reluctantly decide to leave together.
Tamino wakes, hears someone approaching and hides. Papageno enters, arrayed entirely in the plumage of birds. He describes his happy life as a bird-catcher and his longing for a wife, or, at least, a girlfriend (aria: “Der Vogelfänger bin ich ja”). Tamino emerges and introduces himself to Papageno, whom he initially thinks may have killed the serpent. Papageno is only too happy to take the credit – he claims that he strangled the monster with his bare hands. The three ladies suddenly reappear and instead of his daily meal of wine, sweet figs and cakes, they bring Papageno water, a stone and a padlock which they place over his mouth as a warning not to lie. They tell Tamino that it was they who saved him from the serpent and give him a portrait of the Queen of the Night’s daughter Pamina. The ladies leave and Tamino gazes on the portrait, falling instantly in love with Pamina (aria: “Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön” / “This image is enchantingly lovely”).
The arrival of the Queen of the Night. Stage set by Karl Friedrich Schinkel (1781–1841) for an 1815 production
The ladies return and tell Tamino that Pamina has been captured by an evil sorcerer, Sarastro, and that her mother longs to see her again. Tamino swears that he will rescue Pamina. The Queen of the Night herself appears and tells Tamino that Pamina will be his wife if he can rescue her from Sarastro (Recitative and aria: “O zittre nicht, mein lieber Sohn” / “Oh, tremble not, my dear son! You are innocent, wise, pious”). After the Queen leaves, the ladies remove the padlock from Papageno’s mouth, but warn him not to tell any more lies. They give Tamino a magic flute, which will protect him on his journey and has the power to change sorrow into joy. They tell Papageno to accompany Tamino on his rescue-mission and present him with some magic bells for protection – the bells will bring great happiness to anyone who hears them. The ladies introduce three child-spirits, who will guide Tamino and Papageno to Sarastro’s temple. Together Tamino and Papageno set forth (Quintet: “Hm! Hm! Hm! Hm!”).
Scene 2: A room in Sarastro’s palace
Pamina, her hands bound, is brought in by Sarastro’s slaves. Monostatos gloats that she is in his power. He orders the slaves to untie her and leave them together. Papageno, sent ahead by Tamino to help find Pamina, enters. (Trio: “Du feines Täubchen, nur herein!”.) Monostatos and Papageno are each terrified by the other’s strange appearance and Monostatos flees. Papageno announces to Pamina that her mother has sent Tamino to save her. Pamina rejoices to hear that Tamino is in love with her. She offers sympathy and hope to Papageno, who longs for a wife. Together they reflect on the joys and sacred duties of marital love (duet: “Bei Männern welche Liebe fühlen”).
Scene 3: A grove
The three child-spirits lead Tamino to Sarastro’s temple, promising that if he remains patient, wise and steadfast, he will succeed in rescuing Pamina. Tamino approaches the left-hand entrance and is denied access by priests from within. The same happens when he goes to the entrance on the right. But from the entrance in the middle, a speaker appears and lets Tamino in. The speaker tells Tamino that Sarastro is benevolent, not evil, and that he should not trust the Queen of the Night. He leaves, instructing Tamino to trust in wisdom. Outside the temple, Tamino longs for the night to end and to find Pamina. Voices from within the temple reassure Tamino that Pamina is alive. Tamino plays his magic flute. Animals appear and dance, enraptured, to his music. Tamino hears Papageno’s pipes and hurries off to find him.
Papageno and Pamina are trying to find Tamino when they are captured by Monostatos and his slaves. Papageno plays his magic bells, and Monostatos and his slaves begin to dance, mesmerised by the beauty of the music. Papageno and Pamina hear the sound of Sarastro’s retinue. Papageno is frightened and asks Pamina what they should say. She answers that they must tell the truth. Sarastro enters, with a crowd of followers who hail his wisdom and justice.
Pamina falls at Sarastro’s feet and confesses that she tried to escape because Monostatos had forced his attentions on her. Sarastro receives her kindly and assures her that he wishes only for her happiness. But he refuses to return her to her mother, whom he describes as a proud, headstrong woman, and a bad influence on those around her.
Monostatos brings in Tamino. The two lovers see one another for the first time and embrace, causing indignation among Sarastro’s followers. Monostatos tells Sarastro that he caught Papageno and Pamina trying to escape and demands a reward. Sarastro, however, punishes Monostatos for his lustful behaviour toward Pamina, and sends him away. He announces that Tamino must undergo trials of wisdom in order to become worthy as Pamina’s husband. The priests declare that virtue and forgiveness will sanctify life (“Wenn Tugend und Gerechtigkeit”).
Scene 1: A grove of palms
The council of priests of Isis and Osiris, headed by Sarastro, enters to the sound of a solemn march. Sarastro tells the priests that Tamino is ready to undergo the ordeals that will lead to enlightenment. He explains that he seized Pamina from her mother so that she could be united with Tamino – he plans for the couple to eventually take over from him as rulers of the temple. He praises the gods Isis and Osiris, asking them to protect Tamino and Pamina (Aria: “O Isis und Osiris”).
Scene 2: The courtyard of the Temple of Ordeal
Tamino and Papageno are led in by two priests. Papageno is frightened. The priests ask Tamino what he seeks; he says that they are searching for enlightenment, wisdom and love, for which they will risk their lives and undergo every trial. Papageno declines the trials at first, saying that he doesn’t care much about wisdom or enlightenment, and only wants sleep, food and wine, and a pretty woman. One of the priests tells Papageno that Sarastro may have a woman for him if he undergoes the trials; she is called Papagena and is young and beautiful – a perfect wife for Papageno.
The priests advise Tamino and Papageno of the dangers ahead of them, warn them of women’s wiles and swear them to silence (Duet: “Bewahret euch von Weibertücken”). The three ladies appear. They are shocked that Tamino is now an ally of Sarastro, and tempt Tamino and Papageno to speak. (Quintet: “Wie, wie, wie”) Papageno cannot resist answering the ladies, but Tamino remains aloof, angrily instructing Papageno not to listen to the ladies’ threats and to keep quiet. Seeing that Tamino will not speak to them, the ladies withdraw in confusion.
The priests congratulate Tamino for successfully passing the first test, while warning him that there are many challenges still to come.
Scene 3: A garden, Pamina asleep
Pamina is asleep. Monostatos approaches and gazes upon her with rapture. (Aria: “Alles fühlt der Liebe Freuden”) He is about to kiss the sleeping Pamina, when the Queen of the Night appears. Pamina wakes and tells her mother that Tamino is aspiring to join Sarastro’s brotherhood and to gain enlightenment. The Queen is furious and reveals her true plan: she gives Pamina a dagger, ordering her to kill Sarastro with it. (Aria: “Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen” / “Hell’s vengeance boils in my heart”). She leaves, and Pamina declares that she will not do as her mother asked. Monostatos returns and tries to force Pamina’s love by threatening to reveal the Queen’s plot, but Sarastro enters and drives him off. Pamina begs Sarastro to forgive her mother and he reassures her that revenge and cruelty have no place in his domain (Aria: “In diesen heil’gen Hallen”).
Scene 4: A hall in the Temple of Ordeal
Tamino and Papageno are led in by priests. They are reminded that they must remain silent. Papageno complains of thirst. An old woman enters and offers Papageno a cup of water. He drinks and, although it is forbidden, he engages the woman in conversation and asks how old she is. She replies that she is eighteen years and two minutes old. Papageno teasingly asks whether she has a boyfriend. She replies that she does and that his name is Papageno. She disappears as Papageno asks for her name, and the three child-spirits bring in the magic flute, bells and food, sent from Sarastro. They instruct Papageno to keep quiet. Tamino begins to play the flute, which summons Pamina. She tries to speak with him. Tamino, bound to a vow of silence as part of the trials, cannot talk to her, and Pamina begins to believe that he no longer loves her. (Aria: “Ach, ich fühl’s, es ist verschwunden”) She leaves in despair.
Scene 5: The pyramids
The priests celebrate Tamino’s successes so far, and pray that he will succeed and become worthy of their order (Chorus: “O Isis und Osiris”). Pamina is brought in and Sarastro instructs Pamina and Tamino to bid each other farewell before the greater trials ahead. (Trio: Sarastro, Pamina, Tamino – “Soll ich dich, Teurer, nicht mehr sehn?”) They exit and Papageno enters, in search of Tamino and complaining about the trials. The priests grant his request for a glass of wine and he expresses his desire for a wife. (Aria, Papageno: “Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen”). The elderly woman reappears and tells him that unless he marries her, he will be imprisoned forever. When Papageno promises to love her faithfully (muttering that he will only do this until something better comes along), she immediately transforms into the young and pretty Papagena. Papageno rushes to embrace her, but the priests drive him back, telling him that he is not yet worthy of her.
Scene 6: A garden
The three child-spirits hail the dawn. They observe Pamina, who is contemplating suicide because she believes Tamino has abandoned her. The child-spirits restrain her and reassure her of Tamino’s love. She allows them to lead her to Tamino. (Quartet: “Bald prangt, den Morgen zu verkünden”).
Scene 7: Outside the Temple of Ordeal
Two men in armour lead in Tamino. They recite one of the formal creeds of Isis and Osiris, promising enlightenment to those who successfully overcome the fear of death (“Der, welcher wandert diese Strasse voll Beschwerden”). This recitation takes the musical form of a Baroque chorale prelude, to the tune of Martin Luther‘s hymn Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh darein (Oh God, look down from heaven). Tamino declares that he is ready to be tested. Pamina’s voice is heard. The men in armour assure Tamino that the trial by silence is over and he is free to speak with her. Pamina enters and declares her intention to undergo the remaining trials with Tamino. The pair are delighted to be together again. Pamina hands Tamino the magic flute to help them through the trials. (“Tamino mein, o welch ein Glück!”). Protected by the music of the magic flute, which Tamino plays, they pass unscathed through trials of fire and water. The Priests hail their triumph and invite the couple to enter the temple.
Scene 8: A garden
Papageno despairs at having lost Papagena and decides to hang himself (Aria/Quartet: “Papagena! Papagena! Papagena!”) The three child-spirits appear and stop him. They advise him to play his magic bells to summon Papagena. She appears and, united, the happy couple stutter in astonishment. They plan their future and dream of the many children they will have together (Duet: “Pa … pa … pa …”).
The traitorous Monostatos appears with the Queen of the Night and her three ladies. They plot to destroy the temple (“Nur stille, stille”) and the Queen confirms that she has promised her daughter Pamina to Monostatos. But before the conspirators can enter the temple, they are magically cast out into eternal night.
Scene 9: The Temple of the Sun
Sarastro announces the sun’s triumph over the night. Everyone praises the courage of Tamino and Pamina in enduring their trials, gives thanks to Isis and Osiris and hails the dawn of a new era of wisdom and brotherhood.