Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte

Event: Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte
Date: October 14, 2017, 12:55 pm
Run Time: 3 hours 9 minutes
Ticket Info: Tickets available at the door and online

Tickets for Die Zauberflöteper adult • $22.00 online

Tickets for Die Zauberflöteper student • $11.00 online


A mythical land between the sun and the moon. Prince Tamino, pursued by a serpent, is saved by three ladies in the service of the Queen of the Night. After they have left, the birdcatcher Papageno enters. He explains to Tamino that he is given food and drink by the Queen’s ladies in return for his birds and claims that it was he who killed the serpent. The ladies return to give Tamino a portrait of the Queen’s daughter, Pamina, who they say is being held prisoner by the evil Sarastro. Then they padlock Papageno’s mouth for lying. Tamino falls in love with Pamina’s portrait at first sight. The Queen appears. She grieves over the loss of her daughter and asks Tamino to rescue her. The ladies hand Tamino a magic flute to ensure his safety on the journey. Papageno, who is to accompany him, is given magic silver bells. Three spirits are appointed to guide them.

In Sarastro’s palace, the slave Monostatos pursues Pamina. He is frightened away by the arrival of Papageno, who tells Pamina that Tamino loves her and is on his way to save her.

Led to Sarastro’s temple, Tamino learns from a priest that it is the Queen who is evil, not Sarastro, and that Pamina is safe. He plays on his flute, charming the animals with the music and hoping that it will lead Pamina to him. When he hears the sound of Papageno’s pipes, he rushes off to follow it. Monostatos and his men chase Papageno and Pamina but are rendered helpless by Papageno’s magic bells. Sarastro, entering in ceremony, promises Pamina eventual freedom and punishes Monostatos. Pamina is enchanted by a glimpse of Tamino, who is led into the temple with Papageno.

Sarastro tells the priests that Tamino will undergo initiation rites. Papageno and Tamino are sworn to silence. The three ladies appear and have no trouble derailing Papageno from his course of virtue, but Tamino remains firm.
Monostatos tries to kiss the sleeping Pamina but is chased away by the arrival of the Queen of the Night. She gives her daughter a dagger and orders her to murder Sarastro. Pamina is left alone in tears and consoled by Sarastro who explains that he does not seek vengeance against the Queen.

Papageno is quick to break a new oath of fasting and jokes with a flirtatious old lady, who vanishes when he asks for her name. Tamino remains steadfast, breaking Pamina’s heart: she cannot understand his silence.
The priests inform Tamino that he has only two more trials to complete his initiation. Papageno, who has broken his oath, is eliminated from the trials. Pleading for a wife he eventually settles for the old lady. When he promises to be faithful to her she turns into a young Papagena but immediately disappears.

Despairing over Tamino’s apparent indifference, Pamina is about to commit suicide but is saved by the three spirits. She finds Tamino and walks with him through the ordeals of water and fire, protected by the magic flute. Papageno also is saved from a halfhearted attempt at suicide by the spirits, who remind him that if he uses his magic bells he will find true happiness. When he plays the bells, Papagena appears and the two are united.

The Queen of the Night, her three ladies, and Monostatos attack the temple but are defeated and banished. Sarastro joins Pamina and Tamino as everybody praises the gods Isis and Osiris and the triumph of courage, virtue, and wisdom.

Notes by Zeke Hecker

It’s not an opera. It’s a “Singspiel,” a “sung play.” Mozart’s friend Emmanuel Schikaneder, a comedian/singer/producer, commissioned it for a theater he operated in the working-class outskirts of Vienna. He was cashing in on the fad for “magic operas.” (A nearby theater was running a successful production of something called Kaspar the Bassoonist. Really.) Schikaneder wrote the script and played the comic lead, Papageno the Birdman.

The script makes no sense. Whose side are we on? Directors have been wrestling with this for two centuries. (Ingmar Bergman’s film version made it into a custody battle: Sarastro is Pamina’s father.) The problem is that Schikaneder and Mozart changed direction about half an hour into the story. What began as a lighthearted romp became a Masonic allegory. They were both Freemasons, belonging to the same lodge. In those days Masonry was seen by the established political order as dangerous and subversive (even though some members of the aristocracy were Masons). It espoused ideals associated with the Enlightenment, the same ideals that led to the founding of the United States. But given the demands of magic opera and its audience, the creators couldn’t be consistent. Farce jostles with profundity (or, if you choose, pretentiousness). The Victorian era took the heavy approach, as it did with Shakespeare’s The Tempest, to which it was often compared. The Vienna audience just wanted to have a good time. At one performance Mozart himself played the magic bells and deliberately screwed up Schikaneder’s cues for comic effect.

Because of its fantastic elements, directors can have a field day with Flute. Marc Chagall’s 1967 Met production was sumptuous. Critics complained that it overwhelmed the music. I saw it; it didn’t. They said the same about Julie Taymor’s production, the one we’re watching today. Wrong again. I attended rehearsals. For his opening aria, “Ach, ich fühl’s,” the tenor placed himself midstage against designer George Tsypin’s vast glass pyramid. “No,” said Taymor, and beckoned him all the way down center, right to the footlights. “This is your moment. Forget the set.” She knew. You can’t upstage Mozart.

He took to his deathbed while Flute was playing its wildly successful initial run. Each night he followed it in his mind: Now the first act is over … now the Queen sings her big aria … He died December 5, 1791, age 35. That night’s performance of The Magic Flute had just ended.