The Magic Flute Synopsis

Mozart's Die Zauberflöte

Mozart composed the famous opera, Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) in 1791. It is known as a "singspiel" opera, meaning it is a singing play. This photo comes from a performance of The Magic Flute at the San Francisco Opera in 1987.
Mozart composed the famous opera, Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) in 1791. It is known as a "singspiel" opera, meaning it is a singing play. This photo comes from a performance of The Magic Flute at the San Francisco Opera in 1987. Photo by Ron Scherl/Redferns

Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Premiered: September 30, 1791 - Freihaus-Theater auf der Wieden, Vienna

Setting of The Magic Flute:
Mozart's The Magic Flute takes place in ancient Egypt.

The Magic Flute, ACT 1

Prince Tamino is being chased by an evil serpent. Tamino faints from exhaustion, and just when the serpent is about to deliver its deadly attack, it is killed by three ladies in the service of the Queen of the Night. The three ladies find Tamino extremely handsome and return to the Queen to tell her what happened. When Tamino recovers, he is greeted by Papageno, a bird catcher. Papageno tells Tamino that it was he who killed the evil serpent. When the three ladies return to Tamino, they catch Papageno in his lie. They place a padlock over his mouth as punishment, and show Tamino a portrait of the queen's daughter, Pamina, telling him that she has been imprisoned by Sarastro. He instantly falls in love with her. Suddenly, the Queen of the Night appears and tells Tamino that he may marry her daughter, but only if he saves her from her enemy. Tamino, without hesitation, agrees. When the queen departs, the three ladies give Tamino a magic flute that will change the hearts of men. They remove the padlock from Papageno's mouth and give him three silver bells that will protect him. The two men begin their rescue mission with the aid of three spirits sent by the ladies.

Within Sarastro's palace, Pamina is brought into a room by Monostatos, Sarastro's slave. Moments later, Papageno, who was sent ahead of Tamino, arrives. The two men, frightened by each other's appearance, flee from the room in opposite directions. When Papageno returns, he tells Pamina that he and Tamino have been sent by her mother to rescue her. Pamina rejoices and cannot wait to meet the man who loves her. She tells Papageno that he will find love one day too.

The three spirits lead Tamino to Sarastro's temple. Within the temple gates, Tamino is convinced by a high priest that Sarastro is not the evil one - it is actually the Queen of the Night who is evil. When the priest leaves, Tamino plays his magic flute in hopes to summon Papageno and Pamina. Tamino then hears Papageno play his pipes and he leaves while following their sound. Meanwhile, Papageno and Pamina are working their way towards the sound of Tamino's flute. Suddenly, they are captured by Monostatos and his men. Papageno rings his magic bells and the two escape capture. Moments later, Sarastro himself enters the room. Sarastro tells Pamina that she will eventually find her freedom. When Monostatos returns, he brings with him Tamino. Tamino and Pamina see each other for the first time and they embrace. Sarastro then leads Tamino and Papageno into the Temple of Ordeals where they will face several challenges.

The Magic Flute, ACT 2

When Tamino and Papageno enter the temple, they are told that Tamino will be giving Pamina for marriage as well as succession to Sarastro's throne if he successfully completes the trials. Tamino agrees though Papageno remains timid. Finally, Papageno is told that upon his completion of the trials, he will be rewarded with a woman of his own, to which he agrees. Their first trial is to remain silent when confronted by women. Three ladies appear before them, but Tamino remains quiet. Papageno opens his mouth without hesitation, but Tamino orders him to keep quiet. The three ladies then leave.

In Pamina's room, Monostatos kneels down to steal a kiss from the sleeping Pamina. In a flash, the Queen of the Night appears and commands Monostatos to leave. The Queen hands Pamina a dagger and sings her famous aria, "Der Holle Rache," instructing her to kill Sarastro. When the queen leaves, Monostatos reenters and threatens to reveal their murder plot if she does not give into his advances. Sarastro comes in and dismisses Monostatos. He forgives and consoles Pamina.

Back in the temple, Tamino and Papageno face their second trial. Again, they must remain silent. They are approached by an old woman who offers them water. Tamino remains silent, but Papageno accepts the water and strikes up a conversation with her. The old woman vanishes before Papageno can learn her name. The three spirits appear to lead the men forward and tell them that they must remain silent. Pamina appears to speak with Tamino, but Tamino refuses to speak. He is determined to pass the trials in order to save her. Unaware of the challenge he faces, she leaves feeling he no longer loves her.

The priests celebrate Tamino's accomplishments so far, encouraging him that he will be just as successful in the two remaining trials. Papageno, alone, is confronted again by the old woman. She tells him that he must commit his love to her or he will otherwise live alone for the rest of his life. Wanting nothing more than a woman to spend his life with, he agrees to marry the old woman. Instantly, she transforms into a beautiful young woman named Papagena but is rushed off by the priests. In another room, Pamina attempts to kill herself but is stopped by the three spirits.

Tamino is about to walking through fire and water as part of his last two trials when Pamina stops him. They agree to complete the trials together. Protected by the magic flute, they walk through the fire and water unscathed. The priests celebrate their success. Papageno, however, is sad he cannot find his beautiful Papagena. He, too, is and is about to kill himself when the three spirits appear to him and remind him to ring his bells. When he does, Papagena reappears and the two sing about their happy future.

The Queen of the Night, Monostatos, who is now a traitor, and her forces arrive to destroy Sarastro's palace. They are quickly defeated and banished forever. Sarastro joins Tamino and Pamina in the temple hall and they give thanks to the gods.