The Magic Flute

Act I

Fleeing from a gigantic serpent, Prince Tamino loses his way and enters the realm of the Queen of the Night. He faints from fear and is rescued just in time by three ladies, who are captivated by the handsome young man and immediately hasten to inform the Queen about what has happened.

As Tamino is recovering from his faint, Papageno approaches to make a presentation to the Queen of the birds he has just captured, and to receive sweetmeats, wine and figs for his reward. Instead, however, the three ladies place a padlock on his mouth and bring him only water and stones to eat, as a punishment for having pretended to Tamino that it was he (Papageno) who had overcome the serpent. The three ladies have brought the Prince a portrait of Pamina, the Queen’s daughter, who has been abducted. The Prince immediately falls in love with the beautiful portrait and promises to do all he can to save Pamina.

The Queen, together with her retinue, now appears, in order to ensure the assistance of Tamino in person. Accompanied by Papageno, he is to enter Sarastro’s castle and free her daughter. For protection in the tyrant’s realm Tamino receives a magic flute and Papageno a set of bells, both of which instruments have the magical effect of changing the mood of people and of animals. Three boys are to show them the right way and provide advice and assistance at all times.

In Sarastro’s kingdom, the moor Monostatos has just foiled an escape attempt by Pamina. Just as he is trying to get close to the girl secretly, Papageno arrives. Monostatos flees, but Papageno quickly recovers from his terror at having apparently encountered the devil in person, and brings Pamina the joyous news that she is soon to be freed by Tamino. Filled with happiness, they sing a duet about the power of love.

In the meantime the three boys have led Tamino to Sarastro’s temple precincts and have admonished him to be steadfast, patient and discreet. A priest steps out of the Temple of Wisdom and asks the youth what his business there is. Tamino speaks of his concern for Pamina and the hatred for Sarastro that the Queen of the Night has stirred up in him. The priest counters this by saying that Sarastro took Pamina away “for just reasons”, and that Pamina is waiting for Tamino in this holy place. But Tamino is not permitted to see her yet. Tamino then begins to play on his magic flute. The music initially lures numerous wild beasts to Tamino, but Pamina and Papageno also hear the tones of the flute and hasten towards the sound. Monostatos tries to stop her … but he is powerless against magical things and finally is forced to surrender to the sound of Papageno’s bells.

Sounds of rejoicing herald the arrival of Sarastro. Papageno shivers with fright, but Pamina bravely confesses her intention to escape, justifying this by the importunate behaviour of the Moor. The Moor meanwhile has found Tamino and leads him in triumph before the assembled throng. It is in this way that the two lovers meet for the first time, although they are immediately separated by the “initiates”, for Tamino must first undergo tests by which he is to be purified. Pamina is to remain under Sarastro’s protection while this is happening.

Act II

Sarastro has called the entire priesthood together in order to convey to them the will of the gods Isis and Osiris: Tamino can only become Pamina’s consort when he belongs to the circle of the “initiates”. To achieve this he must successfully subject himself to the harsh tests prescribed by the order. The priests agree to admit Tamino and Papageno for testing. Pamina desperately tries to warn her beloved of the impending danger, but he is determined to enter upon the path marked out for him.
In the temple forecourt two priests prepare Tamino and Papageno for the tests they are about to undergo: they command them to remain absolutely silent, and they warn them about women! Papageno has his doubts about all this, and it is only when he is offered the prospect of a bride as a reward that he is willing to follow the priests’ commandments. The three ladies appear and earnestly beg Tamino and Papageno not to trust Sarastro, but Tamino remains steadfast.

Monostatos is endeavouring to kiss the sleeping Pamina secretly, but is disturbed by the Queen of the Night. She tells her daughter about the secret of the sevenfold circle of the sun: Pamina’s father voluntarily gave it to the “initiates” before he died, because he thought his wife, the Queen, was not capable of properly controlling it. At the same time he ordered her to subject herself to the instructions of men from that time onwards. She now wants to avenge herself, and gives Pamina a dagger with which she is supposed to kill Sarastro. In this way the Queen wants to win back the circle of the sun and the power that goes with it. When Pamina rejects her mother’s proposals, the Queen curses her own child and vanishes in a fury.

Monostatos, who has overheard the exchange between them, decides to seize his chance while he can. Love or death – this is the alternative he offers Pamina. She courageously refuses him, and finds in Sarastro an understanding protector in her hour of need: it is not revenge, but understanding and forgiveness that reign “in diesen heiligen Hallen”, Sarastro’s temple.

For Tamino and Papageno, the second part of the tests has begun. The rule of silence applies until the trumpet sounds. This doesn’t greatly bother Papageno, who cheerfully chatters away to Tamino, and also to an old woman who has appeared in response to his request for water. Thunder and lightning bring the exchange to an abrupt end when the old woman says that she has a lover called Papageno …
While Tamino plays on his flute to show Pamina the way, Papageno starts eating the food that the three boys have brought. When Tamino remains silent in the face of all the questions put to him by Pamina, who has hastened to meet him, she believes he has betrayed her and turns away in misery to die.

Sarastro appears with his retinue. He brings Tamino and Pamina together, so that they can bid each other farewell. Papageno, who has not worthily completed the tests he has undergone so far, is sent away. He wanders around alone, and is ready to forgo all this “higher” life for a cup of wine and a girl. Again the old woman appears, and suddenly turns into a youthful Papagena – only to disappear once more a moment later …

Convinced that Tamino no longer loves her, Pamina wants to take her own life. The three boys intervene to protect her and take her to Tamino. Two armed priests are leading the prince to the fire and water tests. Pamina is to accompany her beloved. Protected by the flute’s music, they both overcome the final great life-threatening challenges before them.

Papageno also has no desire to live any longer without a “girl or woman” to share his life. The three boys remind him that he too has a magical instrument: the set of bells. The first sounds “magic” Papagena back to him and the couple sing of their dreams of a huge family.

Once again the Queen of the Night, her three ladies and Monostatos attempt to enter the temple and have their revenge. Sarastro surprises the intruders and banishes them from his kingdom forever.