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Or, in the original German, Die Zauberflöte.

The last opera Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart ever wrote (la clemenza di Tito was composed after the Flute was started, but before its completion), right after he was initiated into the Freemasons; the libretto is thus rife with that organization's symbolism. The Magic Flute is actually closer to our understanding of a Musical than Opera: it is generally as seen as Lighter and Softer than, say, Richard Wagner's The Ring of the Nibelung, and deals more with the themes of ignorance versus wisdom and the virtues of love and family rather than the fall of the gods and the end of the world. Also, being a "singspiel," it has dialogue, not just singing. To make a long story short, this was the Mozartian equivalent of Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, with which it shares a similar level of popularity within its genre.

The action starts with a prince from a foreign land, Tamino, chased onstage by a giant serpent. He faints in the face (teeth) of death, and so does not notice when three Ladies Of War show up; the Three Ladies immediately swoon over his Mr. Fanservice good looks and argue over which of them will return to report to their ruler, the Queen of the Night, and which of them will get to stay and, ahem, revive him. Eventually, they make the sensible decision that all three of them return, leaving Tamino alone again. (...Okay, sensibility rescinded.) Tamino awakes in time to meet Papageno, the Queen of the Night's royal bird-catcher, an eccentric fellow frequently costumed in feather-and-beak motifs. He sings a pleasant "I Am" Song about his Sidekick Song philosophy and lack of love life. The Three Ladies now return and show Tamino the portrait of a Princess Classic, Pamina, resulting in Love At First Sight. Then the Queen of the Night herself appears, and, in an aria famous for containing notes high enough to break glass, promises Tamino her daughter Pamina's hand in marriage... IF Tamino can Save the Princess, who has been captured by a guy with the ominous name of Sarastro. The Queen gives Tamino his Magic Flute, Papageno a set of magic bells (both of which have the power to Charm Person when you play them), and tour guides in the form of Three Young Boys, and sends them on their way.

In Sarastro's temple we find Pamina, who is being pursued by a Scary Black Man named Monostatos. Fortunately, Monostatos' bark is worse than his bite, because when Papageno shows up with his absurd costume, it's Monostatos who runs away in terror. He and Pamina link up and begin to exit the temple. Meanwhile, Tamino, Storming the Castle, has gotten hung up at the front door. A servant of Sarastro comes out and convinces Tamino that the Queen of the Night has pulled a switcheroo on him: she's the Big Bad, and Sarastro had Pamina kidnapped for her own safety. This opinion is reinforced when Sarastro himself appears on the scene and chews out Monostatos for his Casanova Wannabe impression. After Pamina has her Love At First Sight moment and re-unites for the first time with Tamino, Sarastro escorts them both into the Temple as the act ends.

Once the Intermission is over, Sarastro declares that Tamino and Papageno will have to undergo some character tests before he can let Pamina marry. Tamino, in the throes of love, agrees; Papageno needs to be bribed with the possibility of a Love Interest of his own -- one who happens to be named Papagena. The main test is that both men need to be silent when confronted by women -- which, of course, is Played for Drama when one of the women who visits them is Pamina, leaving the chamber with the conclusion that Tamino no longer loves her. Papageno also gets the Squick of his life when a really old woman arrives and declares herself Papagena, his bride-to-be. (Of course, she's secretly a hot young woman in disguise, which just makes Papageno even more paranoid once this is revealed to him.) Finally, Monostatos sings his I-Want-Pamina Song and eventually Face Heel Turns over to the Queen of the Night. She has another glass-cracking aria instructing Pamina to kill Sarastro.

Pamina, bereft of her beloved, decides to kill herself. Fortunately, the Three Young Boys intervene and take her to Tamino, who can now apologize; Pamina is so overjoyed that she doesn't even make him sleep on the couch. Next, Papageno attempts the same thing, only to be saved by the Three Young Boys and united with his no-longer-disguised-as-a-squishy-old-woman Papagena. Finally, the Queen of the Night, Monostatos and the Three Ladies attempt to attack the Temple, only to be... umm... Well, something happens that takes them out of contention. But whatever, the bad guys die a lot, and both couples have their Happy Ending as the curtain falls.

The Magic Flute has been made into two movies (as well as numerous filmed stage performances). Trollflöjten (1975), a Swedish translation filmed by Ingmar Bergman, was a semi-surrealist, No Fourth Wall fantasy which shows not only the audience, the stage and the theatre, but how the singers kill time while offstage. It is now part of The Criterion Collection. The Magic Flute (2006), directed by Kenneth Branagh with a new English translation by Stephen Fry, is more traditional, aside from being set during World War I.

Other adaptations include a Comic Book by P. Craig Russell with an ending that can be best described as trippy, a novelization (Night's Daughter) by Marion Zimmer Bradley, and Magic Flute Diaries, a film about a performance of The Magic Flute.


The Magic Flute shows examples of:

  • Adorkable: Papageno, particularly in the Kenneth Branagh film.
  • Amazon Brigade: The Queen and her Three Ladies, before Monostatos does his Face Heel Turn and joins them.
  • Babies Ever After: Papageno and Papagena promise each other than they will have "a little Papageno" and then "a little Papagena" and "another Papageno" and "another Papagena"... etc.
  • Beta Couple: Papageno/a.
  • Break the Cutie: Poor, poor Pamina.
  • Cannot Spit It Out: Literally. Or as Papageno himself puts it: "Mmh-mmh, mmh-mmh, mmh-mmh-mmh-mmh". Later, more serious version with the ordeal of silence, which verges on Poor Communication Kills.
  • Chewing the Scenery: The Queen of the Night is usually played like this, especially once she gives up the Wounded Gazelle Gambit. Her best-known aria pretty much demands taking a big bite out of the scenery, though.
  • Chick Magnet: Tamino - just watch the three ladies squabbling over him.
  • Cowardly Sidekick, Lovable Coward: Papageno
  • Damsel in Distress: Subverted with Pamina, and played (oddly) near-straight except for gender with Tamino, the designated hero, who enters screaming and swooning and has to be rescued by the three ladies. He gets better.
  • Distaff Counterpart: Papagena, sometimes right down to the feathery outfit.
  • Evil Matriarch: Guess who? (And in case it got lost in the coloratura display, she's abandoning a blatant opportunity to rescue her daughter, so that she can threaten her with Parental Abandonment if the princess won't kill Sarastro for her.)
    • However, she seems to have been an affectionate mother to Pamina until now -- more a matriarch who happened to be evil than mothering in an evil way. Sarastro took Pamina away more because he didn't want her turning out like her mother than because he thought she was going to be directly harmed.
  • Evil Sounds Deep: Subverted, in that the guy with the lowest notes (Sarastro) is the good guy, while the gal with the highest notes (the Queen of the Night) is the Big Bad.
    • Definitely played with, though: Tamino and Papageno are initially convinced that Sarastro is the Big Bad.
  • Final Love Duet: Papageno and Papagena get one.
  • Fridge Logic: If the Queen and her servants lose their powers when the sun rises, why do they decide to attack the temple two minutes before sunrise? Especially since the Queen very successfully infiltrates it hours before that.
    • Also the question of why the Queen's three ladies suggest the three boys as traveling companions for Tamino and Papageno, even though the boys are obviously not on the Queen's side. This was averted in the Bergman film, though. And, by the way, why did Tamino not resort to sign language or something to indicate that he was not allowed to speak to Pamina, instead of just letting her go off and try to kill herself?
      • An argument can be made that the three boys are djinni or some other form of simple helper spirit. Their orders seem to be merely to "guide [Tamino and Papageno] on [their] journey." If this is taken to be the case, then it's less surprising that as supporting Sarastro over the Queen becomes the better option for Tamino and Papageno, the boys' loyalty also shifts.
  • Genre Busting: Considered the first true German Opera, and completely discards the labels of Opera Seria (drama) or Opera Buffa (comedy).
  • Genre Shift: The opera begins as an ordinary fairy tale plot, but midway through Tamino's main goal changes dramatically from "save the princess" to "be accepted as one of the Freemasons".
  • God Save Us From the Queen: Obviously.
  • Happily Ever After
  • "I Am" Song: Papageno, with a large side of Sidekick Song.
  • The Ingenue: Pamina
  • Interrupted Suicide: twice.
  • It Will Never Catch On: Opera in German? With spoken parts?
  • "I Want" Song: Tamino wants Pamina. Monostatos wants Pamina. Pamina wants to be reassured of Tamino's love. The Queen wants someone to kill Sarastro. And Papageno just really wants to get married. Or at least have a girlfriend.
  • Love Before First Sight: Tamino and Pamina. Tamino only needs to see Pamina's picture to fall in love.
  • MacGuffin: the Magic Flute itself, which is only played a couple of times
  • Magical Flutist: Naturally, and there are also magic bells involved.
  • Meaningful Name: "Papagei" (related to English "popinjay") is the German word for "parrot."
  • Pamina I Am Your Father: Sarastro is sometimes played with this angle, depending on the director. Russell's comic makes it explicit.
    • The thing is, the libretto has the Queen telling Pamina: "Ever since your father died, my power has been dwindling." She could be speaking metaphorically... but so much attention is given to her famous aria (the one everyone and their dog knows), which follows right after. Plus, the scene is usually shortened.
    • So? Luke Skywalker's father died, From a Certain Point of View.
  • Gertrude: Many a soprano sang the Queen of the Night first before later taking on the role of Pamina.
    • Explanation: Men and women's voices fully mature at different ages (women around 20, men around 35), and different voice types work within different age constraints. Coloratura soprano roles like the Queen require an agile, athletic kind of voice, which is much more common in younger singers. Lyric soprano roles like Pamina, however, are more suitable for an interpretive artist, and that is much easier for someone with years of experience under her belt.
  • Plucky Comic Relief: Papageno/a.
  • Scary Black Man: Monostatos is meant to be this, with a side of Where the White Women At. This is typically subverted in modern productions due to the Values Dissonance, turning him into a buffoon instead (which has Unfortunate Implications in itself) and/or giving him a Race Lift.
  • The Omniscient Council of Vagueness: Sarastro and his priests.
  • Villain Song: Again, "Der Hölle Rache".
  • What Do You Mean, It's Not Political?: The Queen of the Night is said to have been based on the conservative Empress Maria Theresa, who opposed the "Enlightenment" (get it?) and favored the black-habited Jesuits (get it? black, like Monostatos?) -- fervent opponents of the Freemasons (hence also some of the misogyny of the opera). Following from this, it is quite likely that Tamino represents Joseph II, while Pamina possibly represents Austria or perhaps Europe in general.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: How the Queen of the Night manages to convince Tamino that Sarastro is a villain, and that she is a poor grieving mother.
  • Write Who You Know: It's common belief that Mozart wrote Papageno, a cheerful, easily-distracted fellow who falls in love with any woman he meets, based directly on himself.
    • Alternately, he was based on Mozart's friend Emanuel Schikaneder, whom Mozart personally described almost word for word as Papageno is normally played... and who originated the part on stage.
    • And the role of The Queen was originally played by Mozart's sister-in-law Josepha Weber, who, according to Mozart, was a cold and unpleasant person and only needed to "play herself".
    • In a more musical example, Sarastro's vocal lines are quite simple, making the role accessible to a larger number of deep-voiced men, who are something of a minority to begin with. (It isn't known if Mozart wrote this way because all he had to hand was a bumbling James Earl Jones, but production managers have been thanking him ever since.)
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