This opera opened in 1791 with Mozart himself conducting the orchestra.
A good looking prince, Tamino, is adventuring in a strange land and has found himself lost in a barren and unfriendly area when a large snake suddenly starts pursuing him and he calls to the Gods to spare him before he faints, exhausted. Three gods, attendants of the Queen of the night, appear and kill the snake and finding that they are all attracted to the prince, argue about who gets to stay with him, in the end they all leave together. Papageno wanders in, in his bird catching clothes, looking very much like a bird himself bemoaning his lonely life without a woman to look after him.
The prince comes around from his faint and sees him, thanking him for killing the snake and saving his life, Papageno is happy to take the credit, but when the three gods, return they give him water and a stone with a padlock placed over his mouth to chide him for lying. Tamino is given a picture of the Queen’s daughter, Pamina, who is so lovely that he immediately falls in love with her.
The queen herself appears and tells Tamino that Pamina has been captured by an evil devil but she will be his if he manages to rescue her. The gods remove the padlock from Papageno’s mouth and he is given some magic bells which will protect them both from danger and a magic flute for Tamino which will turn sorrow into joy. They are also sent away with spirits to guide them on their way to Sarastro’s temple.
We see Pamina being dragged by slaves into the temple, she has tried to escape and been recaptured. The chief of slaves, a large Negro called Monostatos, orders that she is tied up and left with him. Papageno enters and sees the Negro but is so terrified that he turns and leaves again. Once he gains enough courage, after Monostatos has left, he lets Pamina know that help is on its way and the prince Tamino is coming to rescue her. Tamino is reassured by the spirits that if he is wise and patient, being steadfast in his mission he will succeed but entrance to the temple is barred to him until an old priest lets him in and advises him to approach in the spirit of friendliness which always lifts confusion, that Sarastro is basically good and that trusting the Queen is not necessarily wise.
Playing the magic flute he gains entrance as animals dance around him to the tunes that he plays and he hears the bells his friend Papageno’s has and makes his way towards them.
Papageno and Pamina are searching for Tamino but have been re-captured by Monostatos however the magic bells soon has them dancing and joyful, they hear Sarastro entering and Papageno is fearful of what to do but Pamina throws herself at his feet saying she only escaped because she was fearful of what Monostatos wanted to do to her.
Sarastros is kind to her and says he only wants her happiness and she must have a man to guide her; her mother the Queen is not a good person.
Monostatos leads Tamino in and she embraces him – he wants a reward from Monostatos for recapturing Pamina, however his reward is punishment from Sarastros for his behaviour towards Pamina and he is banished. He also declares that Tamino must undergo trials to prove his worthiness to marry Pamina.
Sarastros tells his council of priests that Tamino is ready to undergo the worthiness trials and asks the Gods Isis and Osiris to keep him and Papageno safe throughout. The priests warn them of the dangers that they face and they must beware women’s wiles and the need to stay silent.
When three ladies approach and try to scare them into talking only Papageno answers, so desperate is he for a woman he forgets the priests words, Tamino gestures to him to stay silent and eventually the women wander off.
Meanwhile Monostatos has crept into the room where Pamina is sleeping and is just about to kiss her when the Queen appears so he hides, she wakes Pamina who explains that Tamino is going through the trials in order to join Sarastros and she is thinking of joining also.
Furious the Queen explains that her husband was the previous owner of the temple but on his death it went to Sarastros leaving her with no power at all and she gives her daughter a dagger ordering her to kill him or she will disown her.
Monostatos appears after the Queen has gone and tries to force Pamina to love him or he will reveal the plot to kill Sarastros however Sarastros appears and banishes Monostatos again. Pamina begs him to forgive her mother and he says that cruelty and revenge have no place in the temple.
In the temple of ordeal Papageno and Tamino face another ordeal and are reminded they must be silent, however Papageno complains of thirst and an elderly woman appears to offer him water. He cannot resist and asks whether she has a husband, she says his name is Papageno but when he asks her name she vanishes. The spirits bring them food and wine, along with the pipes and bells. Tamino begins to play and Pamina appears but he cannot talk to her and she fears that he no longer feels anything for her but the spirits reassure her.
Papageno requests a glass of wine which he is given so he says he also wants a wife. The old lady appears again and tells him that he must promise to marry her or he will be thrown in jail so he promises, thinking, “until something better comes along” but she is immediately transformed into the young and pretty Papageno.
He rushes to her but the priests push him away as he has not proved himself worthy yet. Papageno despairs that he will never be able to unite with her but the spirits tell him to play the magic bells and she will come to him, they talk of the happy life they will lead and the children they will have.
Tamino is led by armed guards to the Chamber of death saying that any who are unafraid of death will reach enlightenment. Pamina calls to him and the guards give him permission to answer as he has passed trial by silence. She declares that she will go through the final trial with him and passes him the magic flute and together they survive the trial by water and fire.
Magically the conspirators Monostatos and the Queen who planned to destroy the temple are banished to the eternal night.
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