The Magic Flute (otherwise known as Die Zauberflote) is Mozart's last opera, first performed on 30th September 1791, in the Vienna Freihaustheater. Emmanuel Schikaneder (the director of the theatre) wrote the libretto, and Mozart and he collaborated in the authorship of the opera. Schikaneder himself was the first Papageno, and his daughter played one of the Three Boys. The opera is sung in German and is written in the Singspiel style, that is with spoken dialogue and song.
The opera is in two acts. Act One begins with Tamino fleeing from a serpent. He falls in a faint. Three ladies appear and kill the serpent, and since each rather fancies Tamino they don't want to leave him. In the end all three depart to tell the Queen what has happened. When they have gone, Tamino wakes up and finds the serpent dead, to his relief, and Papageno the bird catcher arrives. He tells Tamino that the Queen of the Night rewards him with figs and wine in return for the birds he catches. When Tamino asks whether he killed the serpent, he pretends that he did and the three ladies return in the middle of this lie. Papageno is rewarded with water instead of wine, a stone instead of figs and a padlock over his mouth. The ladies then tell Tamino that they killed the serpent and give him a portrait of Pamina, the queen's daughter. Tamino falls instantly in love with the portrait (singing a most beautiful aria about it).
Now we approach one of the big climaxes in the opera. The ladies return with the Queen of the Night who sings one of her two dramatic coloratura arias. These arias are considered to be amongst the highlights of any coloratura soprano's career, as they range right up to three F's above middle C and include dramatic slow music as well as the fast scales and arpeggios which invert some of the music from the overture. Remember, she is the opposite of Sarastro so it is to be expected that her music will be the opposite.The Three Ladies have already told Tamino that Pamina has been stolen away by Sarastro, and the Queen tells Tamino that he is to rescue Pamina, and if he succeeds Pamina will be his.
Next comes the quintet combining Tamino, Papageno and the Three Ladies. Papageno is released from the padlock with the injunction not to tell lies any more. The Ladies give Tamino a golden flute and Papageno the chiming bells, and tell them to follow the instructions of the Three Wise Boys. Papageno does not want to accompany Tamino because he's afraid, but the Ladies insist that the Queen has instructed him to.
We now have a quick scene change to a room in Sarastro's palace. Pamina has tried to escape but Monostatos' slaves have caught her and brought her back. Pamina faints and Monostatos tells the slaves to leave, then Papageno appears, the two are scared of one another and run. At this point I'd better tell you that the reason is that Monostatos is a moor and is usually depicted in the opera with his face blacked. This may be politically improper, but there are a variety of reasons for his existence in the opera which include the links to Freemasonry. He is supposed to be the epitomy of evil, but I don't see him like that. Yes he desires Pamina, who detests him, and it is because he's rejected by her and punished by Sarastro for his approaches he then aligns himself with the Queen of the Night. It's also interesting that all the other characters have opposites or pairs except Monostatos. We have three ladies, three boys, Tamino/Pamina, Papageno/Papagena, Sarastro/The Queen of the Night, Two Armed Men, Two Priests but Monostatos is on his own. To get back to the first meeting of Papageno and Monostatos, Papageno looks like a bird (the original costume was covered in feathers) and Monostatos is a black man, and neither has seen anything like the other before. This is usually played as a comedy moment in the opera but it has a serious side.
Pamina comes round, Papageno tells her that Tamino is on his way but has sent him ahead, they run off to find Tamino.
Now for another great moment in the opera. Tamino is brought by the Three Boys to an area in front of three temple doors. Tamino approaches first the right hand then the left hand temple and is told Zuruck (go back) by the chorus. He then approaches the centre door which is opened by a priest. The priest can tell him that this is Sarastro's temple and that he has indeed taken Pamina, but he isn't permitted to say more. Tamino is left alone again and sings "oh endless night", in another conversation with the chorus. Now we get another great aria and one of the magical moments in the opera, when Tamino sings and plays his flute in the wilderness. The wild animals come and listen and again producers always have fun with this part.
We see Pamina and Papageno again, still on the run from Monostatos. He catches them and, separately, Tamino. Another grand chorus follows and the three are brought before Sarastro. He forgives Pamina, accepting her explanation that it was Monostatos' inappropriate advances which drove her to run away, then Pamino and Tamina recognise one another. Monostatos tries to tear them apart and Sarastro, his patience at an end, rewards him with a beating on the soles of his feet.
The act finishes with another major chorus and Tamino and Papageno are led off with sacks over their heads.