miércoles, 8 de enero de 2020

A Visit to Four Operas of Mozart (Die Zauberflöte)

An meine drei Damen und meine drei Knaben

Mozart by Lange (1789)

Die Zauberflöte – an Opera for the People


Emanuel Schikaneder had met and become a friend of the Mozart family in 1780, when passing with his travelling company through Salzburg. In 1784, in Pressburg, the present-day Bratislava, Emperor Joseph II attended a performance by Schikaneder’s company and invited him to Vienna, an invitation which he was very pleased to accept.  His fortune in the Austrian capital suffered many vicissitudes, but finally he managed to establish his company in the provisional theatre in what was known as the Freihaus, in Wieden on the outskirts of the city.

The Freihaus, literally “free house”, was a group of dwellings, workshops and small shops, in which, by Imperial dispensation, all activities were gloriously free of taxes. In the theatre that formed part of this complex, Schikaneder had put on all sorts of plays, especially plays of a comic and popular nature, with particular attention to the effects of decoration and use of machinery that had made him famous at the Kärtnertor Theater, one of the Imperial theatres of Vienna. One of his specialties was the Singspiel, a kind of play in which musical numbers alternate with spoken dialogue without musical accompaniment; an example of this was Mozart’s own Die Entführung aus dem Serail, composed in 1782.

In November 1790, Schikaneder approached Mozart with the proposal of composing an opera in German for his company. Mozart accepted with pleasure, since he had for some time been toying with the idea of undertaking a project of that kind; nevertheless, it was only during the following summer that he began work on what was to be Die Zauberflöte.

Emmanuel Schikaneder

Legend has it that Schikaneder proposed paying Mozart out of the takings from the box office, but this cannot be substantiated from any reliable source. What seems more probable is that Mozart —who was not living in poverty but was rather what we might call technically insolvent— charged his normal fee for an opera: 100 ducats, equivalent to about 4,000 of today’s US dollars.

As for the myth of Mozart’s poverty, it has been talked about so much that it is often now taken for granted, but it has very little basis in fact. Robbins Landon calculates the composer’s earnings for 1791 at 3,763 Gulden —in other words about 33,400 present day dollars, which in no country in the world is equivalent to living in poverty. His son Karl Thomas attended an expensive school. His wife spent long curative seasons taking the waters at Bad near Vienna. The family —in the composer’s absence, owing to his journey to Frankfurt to attend the coronation of Leopold II— had moved in 1790 into what was to be Mozart’s last residence, at No. 8, Rauensteingasse, in what was considered a good neighborhood. It is true that he was in debt for several years, but this was a consequence of the costs incurred through Constanze Mozart’s repeated illnesses and pregnancies, and of a lifestyle somewhat above what his earnings permitted, also —probably— in some measure as a result of gambling debts. When Mozart died, Constanze estimated his debts at some 3,000 Gulden, about 27,000 dollars of today.  Mozart’s case was similar to that of many Mexican families of the 1990s accustomed to living in excess of their real incomes. Mozart’s biographers have studiously avoided inquiring openly into this matter

The libretto for Die Zauberflöte, and to a certain degree the music, have been the subject of a lengthy series of studies: some very good, some very bad, and others very amusing.  The librettist was —officially— Schikaneder, although it cannot be ruled out that Mozart himself had a hand .  Karl Ludwig Giesecke, who was a member of the company and later became a profesr of mineralogy in Dublin, maintained —years after Mozart’s death— that he was the author, denying Schikaneder’s part in it. Stylistic analysis of texts by Giesecke and the libretto of Die Zauberflöte have demonstrated the improbability of this. What seems most likely is that it was a collaboration between several persons, in other words Schikaneder & Co.

Schikaneder was very successful adapting stories from a collection known as Dschinnistan, compiled by Christoph Martin Wieland, one of which is Lulu, oder die Zauberflöte by A.J. Liebeskind. In this story an oriental prince is sent by a good fairy to rescue her daughter from the hands of a wicked sorcerer with the aid of a magic flute; Lulu, the prince, overcomes the evil magician and manages to escape with the fairy’s daughter. This was to be essentially the nucleus of the opera’s plot, but with some radical changes. It provided important elements guaranteeing the success of a play in Schikaneder’s plebeian theatre: the exoticism of an oriental land, touches of magic —very fashionable in the theatre of those days— and simplicity of plot.

In June 1997, David Buch made public his discovery of portions of two little–known operas partially written in 1790 by Mozart, in the archives of the libraries of the University and the City of Hamburg. The two operas are the already recorded Der Stein der Weisen and The Beneficent Dervich, both attributed to Schikaneder.  Both include magic and their libretti are based on Dschinnistan. The music attributed to Mozart corresponds to a duet and a fragment of the second act of Der Stein der Weisen, and to some consultations between Mozart and Schikaneder for The Beneficent Dervich. The discovery proves, according to Mozartean researchers, that Mozart was interested in magical subjects in his last two years. The discovery also supports the thesis of Nicholas Till, who says that Mozart started to think of a magical and Masonic opera since his trip to Berlin in 1789, where he was supposedly summoned by Frederick William II to commission from him such opera. But his is nothing but hypothesis. 

The impresario cum actor and librettist also sang, and so a character was invented to his measure. This was Papageno, who was lifted straight out of commedia dell’arte, the immediate model being Truffaldino, whom –stealing the idea from a rival theatre– he disguised as a bird. Other secondary sources were the operas Osiride by Johann Gottlieb Naumann and Das Sonnenfest der Brahminen by Wenzel Müller.

The librettists of Die Zauberflöte —Mozart, Giesecke and Schikaneder— were all Freemasons, although, in Schikaneder’s case, only at a lower level of initiation.  They therefore decided to incorporate Masonic elements in the opera. This would have been unthinkable in any Imperial theatre since Leopold II was engaged in a life and death struggle against freemasonry, which he considered a dangerously destabilizing element for his Empire; nevertheless, in a secondary theatre, the Masonic allusions were likely to pass unnoticed.

The other important source for the libretto is the novel Sethos by Jean Terrason, published in Paris in 1731 in French and then translated into German in 1778.  Terrason pretended that his novel was a translation from the Greek of a document from the time of Vespasian, with the aim of demonstrating a direct connection between ancient Egypt and the French masonry of the eighteenth century.  In this novel such elements appear as the Queen of the Night and her three Ladies —here as villains—, the Men in Armor, the serpent from the first scene of the opera and, above all, a description of the rites of initiation.  Sethos, as it happens, had been the principal source for Gebler’s play with music by Mozart, Thamos, König in Ägypten, K 345.

We arrive at the point where practically all the elements of the Die Zauberflöte can be identified, except for one: Monostatos, who is initially in the service of the man we believe to be the “evil” sorcerer, but is actually a “good” priest, and will end up in the service of the “evil” queen whom we had at first believed to be “good”. This change has led many to believe —and this is today the most widely accepted theory— that there was a modification in the orientation of the libretto at the end of June 1791, brought about by two aspects: the need to make the story coherent with Mozart’s Masonic convictions –women such as the Queen were not accepted in the Masonic lodges– and also to maintain the musical quality of the work, preventing its being merely a grotesque story, and reducing somewhat the specific weight of Papageno-Schikaneder.  Nevertheless, he could not —nor did he wish to— lose sight of the principal objective of the work: that of making money; the Freihaus company could not afford the risk of a box-office flop.

There is an abundance of Masonic elements in the opera: three ladies, three children, the polarity of good and evil, light and darkness, eighteen priests in the first scene of Act II, three-fold triple chords, the initiation ceremony that, according to some, may have scandalized some masons, who saw their secrets revealed, the use of the key of E flat major, employed throughout Mozart’s Masonic music because of its ceremonious character and also because of the symbolism of the three flats which form its signature. Nevertheless, not all is ceremony and mystery; the opera is also a fairy tale designed to have a rapid impact on its spectators.

Frontispiece of the libretto of Die Zauberflöte

It has been said that the German used by Schikaneder is not very elegant: in complete contrast with Da Ponte’s Italian for example. It is, however, generally agreed to be decent German, in spite of lapsing at times into Viennese dialect. It was important from Schikaneder’s point of view that a genius like Mozart should communicate easily and rapidly with his particular public, much less sophisticated than the Hoftheater audiences; otherwise his business would be damaged.

Mozart began writing the opera in June, 1791, while his wife was undergoing another of her curative sessions. During July, the opera was practically finished and he delivered the parts to the singers to begin studying them, composing round about the same time the celebrated motet Ave verum corpus Two important events mark that month in Mozart’s life: the composition of an opera to celebrate the coronation of Leopold II in Prague as King of Bohemia —which was to be Mozart’s last opera seria, La clemenza di Tito, K 621, and the mysterious request for the Requiem, K 625.

He interrupted work on Die Zauberflöte and travelled to Prague for the opening of Tito, returning to Vienna on September 12, where he finished the composition of the second act, Papageno’s songs and the chorus O Isis und Osiris. On September 28, he entered in his catalogue, as “Deutsche Oper” (German opera), the Overture and the March of the Priests, along with the Clarinet Concerto in A major, K 622.

Two days later, on September 30 1791, under Mozart’s baton, Die Zauberflöte, K 620 had its first performance, in the Theater auf der Wieden in the Freihaus. Mozart also conducted the second performance on the following day, in what was to be his last professional appearance. He invited Antonio Salieri and Catarina Cavalieri to the October 13 performance, and they were full of praise for the opera. On November 20, Mozart took to his bed, never to get up again. He died at 1 o’clock in the morning of December 5 1791, as the success of Die Zauberflöte was becoming overwhelming: it had already had its fortieth performance, an achievement not attained during Mozart’s lifetime by all the rest of his operas together. How cruel was destiny to this the greatest of all musicians!

Immediately, Die Zauberflöte began to be produced in all the opera houses of the German-speaking world. In 1811, the first performance in Italian was given in England, in His Majesty’s Theatre in London, and in the United States in 1833 the first English-language performance was given.  It was normal practice, outside the German-speaking countries, to perform the opera in the local vernacular until the mid-twentieth century.  Nowadays it is generally sung in German, although it is still common to perform the spoken parts in the local language, or even to cut these parts.

Die Zauberflöte was, among all Mozart’s operas, the one most admired by German composers. Beethoven, who had a poor opinion of Don Giovanni, and worse of Cosi fan tutte, entered into ecstasies whenever Die Zauberflöte was mentioned. For Carl Maria von Weber and Richard Wagner it represented the greatest glory of German opera.

And in the same way as Don Giovanni, Die Zauberflöte was never to disappear from the repertoire of the opera companies, especially those of Germany and Austria.


Mozart composed much of Die Zauberflöte in a pavilion that Schikaneder made available to him in the Freihaus. He was thus able to become thoroughly familiar with the endowments of the singers who were to interpret what was to be his “swan song”. The pavilion is now preserved in the Mozarteum at Salzburg.

The opera has a large number of characters, some of which do not sing, but only act.

Tamino, a young oriental prince, was interpreted by the company’s principal tenor, Benedikt Schack, who was himself a composer and flautist of considerable quality. When the thirty-three-year-old Schack performed Tamino, it was probably the only time that the actor playing the prince actually played the flute on stage. Tamino is musically and dramatically a direct precursor of the Wagnerian Heldentenor. His heroic mission is to rescue Pamina. As in Die Entführung aus dem Serail, Mozart accords great importance to the tenor, a voice that tended to be dominated by the sopranos and basses in the opere buffe he composed with Lorenzo da Ponte as librettist.

Pamina, fatherless daughter of the Queen of the Night, is kidnapped by Sarastro. This role was first performed by Anna “Nanette” Gottlieb, who was only seventeen years old. She had been the first to sing the part of Barbarina in Le nozze de Figaro five years earlier.  Many legends have grown up around Nanette, but it is undeniable that, had she not been a great singer, Mozart would hardly have written for her the beautiful music with which Pamina delights us on various occasions during the opera. For me it is important that the singer chosen to interpret Pamina should sound genuinely young and innocent.

The Queen of the Night, whom we initially take for the innocent victim of Sarastro, but whose aims are in fact evil, has just two solos: but what solos!  The first Queen of the Night was the eldest of Constanze Mozart’s sisters, Josepha Weber-Hofer, married to the violinist who accompanied Mozart on his journey to Frankfurt in 1790.  She was 33 years old at the time of the opera’s first staging.

Sarastro, the High Priest of the Temple of Wisdom, was —according to some— modelled on the person who was at the time head of the most important Masonic lodge in Vienna, Ignaz von Born. The High Priest is a solemn character, wise and firm in his convictions. He offers a total contrast with the Queen of the Night, not only in moral terms, but also musically. He is a schwarz bass who reaches a tranquil and very deep bottom E, almost immediately after the Queen of the Night’s furious top F. The twenty-seven year-old Franz Xaver Gerl was the first to interpret Sarastro. A few months before, Mozart had composed for him the bass aria Per questa bella mano, K 612.  He had been a pupil of Leopold Mozart at Salzburg and was to attend, with Schack, the readings of the Requiem in the bedroom of the sick Mozart.

Papageno, the part first played by the baritone Schikaneder, is a character immune to all the solemnity and symbolism of the opera. He spends his days catching birds that he supplies to the Queen of the Night in exchange for food and drink, and his only interest is to find a female companion similar to himself. Against his will he agrees to accompany Tamino on his adventure. Schikaneder was not only a very good Hamlet, but also a great clown. He must surely have drawn forth the guffaws of the public at his buffoonery.

Papagena, the bird-catcher’s companion has a brief musical appearance in duet with Papageno. The part was first taken by Gerl’s wife, Barbara Reisinger, who was 21-year-old.

Monostatos, the character who changes sides, is a black man.  He is a light tenor, in contrast with the heroic tenor, and has a brief but important aria. The fact of his being black has generated an excess of pointless discussions in the Anglo-Saxon lands, derived from the hypocritical obsession with racism that exerts so much influence in those parts of the world. There is no reason to bring racism into the interpretation of a work, simply because it explicitly notes the presence of an African, nor to adduce racist overtones. It is possible that both Schikaneder and Mozart associated a dark skin with the Turkish enemy, although it was also surely just another exotic element in this opera. Johann Joseph Nouseul was the first Monostatos.

The Queen of the Night is accompanied by an élite corps of Three Ladies: soprano, mezzo soprano and contralto. They act as messengers and warriors, sometimes as flirts, at other times gossips. The first Three Ladies were Fräulein Klöpfer, Fräulein Hofmann and Schack’s wife, Elisabeth Weinhold.

The priests who sing are identified in the libretto as the Second and Third, although in the score, Mozart identifies them as First and Second. One of them is a tenor, the other a bass, the tenor in the first production being Johann Michael Kistler and the bass Herr Moll.  The first priest, a non-singing actor, was Schikaneder’s older brother Urban.

An open question concerns the identity of the performer of the part now referred to as Sprecher (“speaker” in English). At the end of the first act, the Speaker has an important duet with Tamino. According to William Mann, this duet must have been performed by the bass Herr Moll, while an apprentice actor, identified in the original program as Herr Winter, took the part in the speech of the first scene of Act II.

Kistler and Moll were also the first to play the parts of the “Men in Armor” who appear at the beginning of the finale of Act II, at the moment of Tamino and Pamina’s initiation rite.

The remaining singing parts, the Three Boys, were sung by Urban Schikaneder’s daughter Nanette, and two boys identified as Tuscher and Handlgruber.

The last three characters, all non-singing parts, are a group of slaves under the command of Monostatos; these were interpreted by the above-mentioned Karl Ludwig Giesecke, Wilhelm Frasel and Herr Starke.

As can be appreciated, the opera has an enormous cast, twenty-two in all. This represented the Theater auf der Wieden’s entire company; obviously there was no room for failure.


That Mozart’s stylistic development was still an ongoing process is proved by the orchestration of Die Zauberflöte.

In the small orchestra pit at the Theater auf der Wieden he placed one flute and a piccolo, which on occasion plays a second flute part, and the habitual pairs of oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns and trumpets, the string section —first and second violins, violas, cellos and double basses— and the timpani. Three trombones also appeared in the orchestra, as well as a carillon of bells, a glockenspiel (a rudimentary precursor of the later celesta) which Mozart himself played in one performance. The clarinetists also changed their instruments at some points during the performance for the deeper-pitched instruments known as bassethorns, which were often heard in the music of the Freemasonry.

Few of the audience at the Theater auf der Wieden would have heard Don Giovanni in the Hoftheater or Idomeneo at Munich. Trombones were at that period only ever heard in churches, having thus a strongly religious association. In one way or another, however, Die Zauberflöte is indeed religious music: that of the religion of the Temple of Wisdom.  Those who were familiar with the above-mentioned works would remember how Mozart had used trombones at moments of terror and would perhaps find it odd to hear them used in other contexts. Beethoven, who so much loved Die Zauberflöte, began using trombones from the last movement of his Fifth Symphony, from which point on they became normal elements in his symphonic music.

As in Don Giovanni and Così fan tutte, the Overture begins lento, adagio, with five chords in the key of E flat major that are perceived structurally as three, since only the second two are repeated. E flat major, one of Mozart’s favorite keys, is in this instance a key of ceremonial brilliance in keeping with the subject of the opera. The trombones contribute a very important element to the color of the opening chords.

The second violins take up a fugal theme as the allegro passage, in which the flutes come to have a preponderant role, begins. Once the theme has been brilliantly developed by the whole orchestra, the music changes tempo to adagio once more, and we hear three triple E flat major chords, identified by some as the knocking on the door by a person seeking initiation in the Masonic lodge. The allegro returns, once again in fugue form. The music comes perilously close to G minor, key of sadness for Mozart, but returns triumphantly to E flat major, recapitulating the theme and repeating the chords, now single, bringing the Overture to an end.  This symphonic piece is of the highest quality and, even when performed in a concert hall, it is one of the favorites with the public.

Act I

The curtain opens. The action is set in Egypt in ancient times. We observe a rocky scene with some trees and a small circular temple in the center stage surrounded by low hills.

An elaborately-dressed young man enters, of “Javanese” appearance according to the libretto, armed with a bow but without arrows. He enters running as if in fear, pursued by a huge serpent: an opportunity for Schikaneder’s scenic effects. The music, allegro in C major for oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns and strings, accompanies the cries of the youth, No.1 Introduction ‘Zu Hilfe! Zu Hilfe!’ (Help! Help!). As the serpent catches up with the youth, he faints, and just at that moment the Three Ladies appear from out of the temple holding lances with which they slay the serpent, cutting it into three Masonic segments. Triumphantly they sing, Stirb!, Ungeheu’r, durch uns’re Macht! (Die, monster, by our power!), accompanied by an orchestra to which flutes, trumpets and timpani have been added. The key is now a victorious E flat major. The Three Ladies pause in order to behold the young man saved by their heroism and the music modulates into a questioning A flat major, very rare in Mozart –remember the toast in Così fan tutte– when the First Lady exclaims Ein holder Jüngling, sanft und schön (A charming youth, gentle and handsome), now without the trumpets and timpani. The youth awakes amorous feelings in the Three Ladies, each of whom wishes to be the one to stay alone with him while the other two go to inform their mistress, Queen of the Night, that the young man is probably the person she is seeking to cure her sorrows. Finally the three decide to go off together singing a gay march in C major. The trumpets and timpani return as they leave the stage with a beautifully harmonized trio Du Jüngling, schön und liebevoll (O handsome youth, so loveable), retiring into the circular temple whose doors close by themselves as if by magic.

Tamino regains consciousness, overwhelmed at finding himself still alive and at seeing the serpent dead, and astonished at the place where he finds himself. He wonders aloud who could have saved him. He hears the sound of panpipes from offstage and hides behind a tree.
Papageno then appears from one of the mountain paths. His dress is like the plumage of a bird and he carries a cage taller than himself containing the birds he has caught. The orchestra, with oboes, bassoons, horns and strings, introduces Papageno’s first Aria No.2, ‘Der Vogelfänger bin ich ja’ (The bird catcher am I), andante in the plebeian key of G major and without complications. This aria is a song in thoroughly popular style —in fact it rapidly became part of Viennese folklore— in three verses that repeat the same melody. In it Papageno describes himself as a very happy bird catcher who would also like to catch girls, feeding the most beautiful one on the sugar he exchanged for his birds. The third stanza of the song, Wenn alle Mädchen wären mein (If all girls were mine) is not in the original libretto nor in the score, though it is regarded as authentic.

At the end of his aria, Papageno goes towards the temple, but Tamino, coming out of his hiding place, holds out his hand to retain him. Tamino learns that Papageno, who identifies himself as “a man like you”, exchanges birds for food and drink in the temple in which the Queen of the Night lives: whom nobody may see, as she always wears a veil over her face. Tamino tells him he is the son of a king who has vast domains far from this place; this surprises Papageno since he had not imagined the existence of anywhere beyond the fields where he traps his birds. Tamino had already heard of the Queen of the Night and at first imagines that it was the bird catcher who killed the serpent. Papageno, who is terrified at the sight of the serpent, makes sure it is really dead before going along with the notion that it was he who slew the monster. While he is engaging in this deception, the Three Ladies come out from the temple, reward Papageno with water and a stone instead of the usual wine and cake for his deceit and —for good measure— place a padlock on his mouth in place of the customary figs. They inform Tamino that they were the ones who killed the serpent and that their “sovereign” sends him a portrait of her daughter who has been abducted, promising that happiness can be his if he is “not indifferent to her features”. The Three Ladies return to the temple.

Tamino goes into an ecstasy looking at the portrait and sings his Aria No.3, ‘Dies Bildniss ist bezaubernd schön’ (This portrait is bewitchingly beautiful), larghetto in E flat major, the opera’s principal key, for sensual clarinets, bassoons, horns and strings. In this aria, Tamino expresses the overwhelming feelings of love the portrait has awoken in him. The music here is typical of Die Zauberflöte, although Mozart had already used a similar structure in Idomeneo. The subject of sentiments awoken by a portrait had also appeared in Fiordiligi and Dorabella’s first duet in Cosi fan tutte and previously in another German opera, the unfinished Zaide, K 344.

After finishing his aria, Tamino prepares to leave, but the Three Ladies return and tell him that the Queen of the Night has been observing him and, in view of the emotions he has expressed, she has decided to ask him to rescue her daughter —the original of the portrait— whose name is Pamina. The Three Ladies then relate how an evil sorcerer has abducted the girl. This inspires in Tamino the determination to go to her rescue. To an accompaniment of thunder and lightning, the Three Ladies announce the arrival of the Queen of the Night.

Oboes, bassoons, horns and strings begin an allegro maestoso in the aristocratic —or royal, in this case— key of B flat major, with a crescendo as the stage darkens and the mountains separate revealing to us the sumptuous dwelling of the Queen of the Night, who is seated on a throne decorated with stars. The Queen of the Night begins a Rezitativ followed by a memorable Aria, No.4 ‘O zittre nicht, mein lieber Sohn!’ (Do not tremble my dear son!). In the recitative —the only accompanied recitative of the opera –the work is, strictly speaking, a Singspiel, and neither an opera buffa nor an opera seria— she tells him that his innocence, wisdom and purity make him the ideal person to “bring consolation to this mother’s grieving heart”. In the aria, ‘Zum Leiden bin ich auserkoren’ (Suffering is my destiny), which begins andante, in an almost pathetic, though somewhat false, G minor, she explains that the cause of her suffering is the loss of her daughter, abducted by an “evil man”; she still sees in her mind’s eye the terrified girl, whom she was “too feeble” to save, and hears her screams as she was carried away. With the words ‘Du wirst sie zu befreien gehen’ (You shall go to set her free), the music accelerates to allegro moderato and returns to B flat major. Finally, she offers him her daughter’s hand if he is able to save her. The singer reaches f’’’, the high F, after executing some extraordinarily florid scales. The first impression is that the Queen of the Night is the great victim of the opera; however, there is something too artificial about the first part of the aria and too triumphantly spectacular in the second part, and so we may well adopt an attitude of “wait and see”. Ernest Newman described the Queen in this aria as a “vulture with the throat of a nightingale”. After Mozart, only Richard Strauss, 121 years later, was to demand such high notes from one of his singers, Zerbinetta, in Ariadne auf Naxos.

At the end of this aria, the mountains close again —once more to the sound of thunder— and the Queen of the Night disappears with her Three Ladies, leaving Tamino and Papageno in astonishment. The Prince wishes to begin the search for Pamina but Papageno stops him, pointing to the padlock on his mouth.

The orchestra, with bassoons, horns and strings, begins, allegro, in the same key of B flat with which the Queen of the Night ended the previous aria, the Quintett No.5 ‘Hm, hm, hm...!’, in which Papageno, his voice doubled by the bassoons, tries to speak with the padlock on his mouth; Tamino declares himself “too weak” to help him remove the padlock and. just at that moment, the Three Ladies appear once again from the temple and, singing in F major, inform Papageno that their sovereign has graciously deigned to relieve the punishment. The quintet intones, with the addition of oboes, one of the moralizing phrases that abound in the opera: ‘Bekämen doch die Lügner alle, ein Solches Schloss vor ihren Mund...!’ (If all liars were to get a padlock like this on their mouths...!) The orchestra takes up once again the key of B flat major as the First Lady presents the Prince with a flute which the Queen of the Night has commanded her to give him, ‘O Prinz! Nimm dies Geschenk von mir’ (O Prince! accept this gift from me), and upon whose virtues the Three Ladies comment, contributing another sweetly moralizing verse to the quintet: such a flute is priceless; through its magic the happiness of mankind will be increased. For some mysterious reason Mozart desists from including the flute in his orchestration at this moment. Papageno decides that now is the time to take his leave of the Three Ladies, ‘Nun ihr schönen Frauenzimmer’ (Now, lovely ladies...), but the music falls into a quasi-pathetic G minor as the Three Ladies tell him that the Queen of the Night has ordered him to accompany the Prince to Sarastro’s castle. Finally the name of the evil sorcerer has been spoken: Sarastro is quite obviously a corruption of Zoroaster or Zarathustra. “No!” exclaims Papageno, who has been told by the Three Ladies themselves that the merciless Sarastro would have him roasted and served to his dogs, ‘Nein, dafür bedank’ ich mich...!’ (No, thank you very much...!) The music returns to E flat major as the Three Ladies tell him that the Prince will protect him, but Papageno is not convinced: ‘Dass doch der Prinz beim Teufel wäre’ (The devil take the Prince) Finally, Papageno is persuaded when they offer him the set of bells —the “glockenspiel”—, also a present from the Queen of the Night and the inspiration of another tinkling verse, ‘Silberglöckchen, Zauberflöten’ (Silver bells, magic flutes). Tamino, before taking his leave, asks for instructions on how to find Sarastro’s castle. The Ladies tell him that the pair will be guided by three boys, ‘Drei Knaben, jung, schön, hold und weise’ (Three boys, young, pretty, good and wise). With these words, the clarinets take the place of the oboes, and the music, now andante, returns to the initial E flat. Mozart gives a very special color, almost ethereal, to the orchestra, which returns every time the Three Boys appear. Finally the five characters take leave of each other, ending the quintet, which is of extraordinary beauty, and in which the Papagenesque tones that predominate at the beginning are replaced by those associated with the Three Boys, who only later make their appearance on stage.

The scene changes to a splendid room in an Egyptian palace. Two slaves bring cushions, rugs and a delicate Turkish-style table. A third slave joins them, in a good mood because Monostatos, their master, is surely going to lose his head, since Pamina, who was being guarded by him, has escaped, most probably after he attempted to rape her. While the slaves laugh, Monostatos appears dragging behind him Pamina, whom he has just recaptured.

The Terzett No.6, ‘Du Feines Täubchen nur herein!’ (My little dove, come in!) begins in G major, allegro molto for flutes, oboes, bassoons, horns and strings, in which Monostatos threatens Pamina, who says she is not afraid to die; the only thing that worries her is her mother’s sorrow. Monostatos has the slaves leave and Pamina swoons. With a beautiful orchestral transition, Papageno appears in the window and then enters the room with his eyes on Pamina, until finding himself face to face with Monostatos. Each looks at the other, a bird-man and a black man, and imagines that the person he sees before him is the devil in person. Both leave the stage running in opposite directions, singing ‘Das ist der Teufel sicherlich’ (This is surely the devil) and begging for mercy, a great opportunity for Schikaneder the clown.

Pamina recovers from her fainting fit, crying in vain for her mother. Papageno returns, reasoning that, if black birds exist, then why not black men? He sees Pamina and recognizes her likeness to the portrait. He compares each feature to make sure: skin color, eyes, lips; everything agrees, except that the girl in the portrait has neither hands nor feet. Papageno tells Pamina that he and Tamino have come to rescue her and that he found his way without the help of the Three Boys. She tells him that he risks facing torture and death just by being there. They are about to leave, when Pamina begins to doubt his intentions, accusing him of being an evil spirit in the service of Sarastro. Papageno answers that he is the “best spirit in the world” and Pamina begs his forgiveness, saying she can see he has a tender heart. Papageno replies saying that his tender heart is of little use to him since he has still not found his Papagena.

Pamina advises him sweetly to be patient and she begins the Duett, No.7 ‘Bei Männern welche Liebe fühlen...’ (Men who feel the power of love...), andantino in E flat major for mellifluous clarinets, bassoons, horns and strings. The second stanza, ‘Die Lieb’ versüsset jede Plage’ (Love sweetens every trouble), ends in a vocal line in which Pamina’s voice becomes ever more florid and ecstatic, as she considers this ideal emotion. The duet, about the inevitability of the perfect human love, is sung by a man and a woman who not only does not love each other, but also have actually only just met. It is typical of this opera and, according to William Mann, very German. Papageno accompanies Pamina in this love duet, not as her lover, but as another person searching for love: Pamina and Papageno are, after all, on different planes of existence. This duet was the piece that found most favor among its Viennese audience on the day of its first performance, and this is perfectly understandable.

The scene changes to a wood in which we find three temples —dedicated to Wisdom, Reason and Nature— connected by rows of pillars.

The orchestra, with flutes, clarinets, bassoons, muted trumpets, trombones, muffled timpani, and strings, begins the introduction to No.8 Finale, larghetto in C major. The Three Boys, each one with a silver palm branch, and transported through the air in a gondola, have brought Tamino, who has the magic flute hanging round his neck, to this place. ‘Zum Ziele führt dich diese Bahn’ (This road leads you to your goal), they sing, and give him some final advice of a moral nature on how to achieve his aim: ‘Sei standhaft, duldsam und verschwiegen... Dann, Jüngling, wirst du männlich siegen’ (Be steadfast, patient and silent... Then, youth, you will conquer like a man). The color of the orchestra is provided by the clarinets, giving a similar effect to that at the end of No. 5, and the trombones make the scene even more mysterious. Normally the Three Boys move in a basket suspended overhead as if from a hot-air balloon, which increases the air of mystery. It is at this point that a change of orientation may have taken place during the writing of the libretto and the opera, since the music is totally innovatory, including the orchestration.

Tamino then sings a solo recitative with strings, in which he acknowledges the truth of the teachings of the Three Boys and wonders at the place to which they have brought him: a sacred place where skill, labor and the arts reside, where there is no room for idleness and vices, ‘Die Weisheitslehre dieser Knaben...’ (The wise teachings of these boys...). Flutes, oboes and bassoons are added, and the music changes to allegro assai as Tamino gathers the courage to carry out his task of saving Pamina; ‘Erzitt’re, feiger Bösewicht! Paminen retten ist mir Pflicht’ (Tremble, craven blackguard! It is my duty to rescue Pamina).

He approaches, with the music in D major, the temple to the right, the Temple of Nature, but before knocking at the door he is surprised by a voice, a chorus, declaiming ‘Zurück! (Back!). Perplexed, he decides to approach the door to the left-hand temple, that of Reason —the music in a cautious G minor—, obtaining the same result, ‘Zurück!’. With the music now in C minor, he approaches the door of the Temple of Wisdom and this time is met by an old priest, who is nowadays referred to as Der Sprecher (The Speaker).

The following scene is of extraordinary importance not only dramatically –since we will now begin to learn the true story– but also musically; in it the old priest must achieve a distillation of the grandiose music Mozart wrote for this section.

The Speaker, accompanied by strings alone, with some occasional chords on the flutes, oboes and bassoons, asks, in A flat major, adagio, ‘Wo willst du kühner Fremdling hin? Was suchst du hier im Heiligtum?’ (Where are you going, bold stranger? What do you seek in this holy place?). With the music now andante in E flat major, Tamino answers that he is seeking “that which belongs to love and virtue”. The Speaker replies, telling him that he is not guided by love and virtue, but that death and revenge are seeking to inflame him.  Tamino answers that he is seeking “revenge on the villain alone”, to which the Speaker retorts that he will not find any such person “in our midst”. Tamino asks whether it is true that Sarastro rules in this place, and the Speaker answers in the affirmative.  Is this the Temple of Wisdom? asks Tamino, to which the reply is “Yes”. Then this is all a sham, exclaims the youth. The old priest, who knows the whole story, including the fact that Tamino arrived with the Three Boys, keeps up the conversation, speaking of Sarastro, whom Tamino claims to hate, and telling him that a woman has deceived him; he is not authorized to tell him more since he has been sworn to silence. Then Tamino asks when the veil of mystery will be lifted, and the Speaker answers, majestically, in A minor – no flats for the moment– ‘Sobald dich führt der Freundschaft Hand ins Heiligtum zum ew’gen Band’ (As soon as the hand of friendship guides you into the sanctuary to the eternal bond), before disappearing through the doors into the Temple of Wisdom.

Tamino is now alone and, to the accompaniment of solemn trombones and strings, andante in A minor —key of eternal night, according to William Mann—, exclaims, ‘O ew’ge Nacht! Wann wirst du schwinden? Wann wird das Licht mein Auge finden?’ (O, endless night, when will you vanish? When will my eye again see light?), to which a mysterious chorus answers from inside the temple: ‘Bald, bald, Jüngling, oder nie’ (Soon, young man, or never!). Tamino then asks whether Pamina is still alive, and the chorus intones, ‘Pamina lebet noch’ (Pamina is still alive). Ingmar Bergman tells us that this is the scene that most impressed him in Die Zauberflöte, since he identified Pamina with Love; he thus interpreted Tamino’s question as “Does love still exist?” and the chorus answer as “Yes love still exists”.

Happy with the reply, Tamino takes his flute and plays a hymn of thanksgiving to the gods, andante in C major, with strings accompanying the flute, plus the discreet support of the oboes, bassoons and horns. ‘Wie stark ist nicht dein Zauberton...’ (How powerful is your magic sound...), he sings. The orphic sound of the instrument summons animals of all kinds, real and fantastic, to approach Tamino, enchanted by the power of his flute.
Tamino was hoping, perhaps, to attract Pamina too –the psychoanalysts could write a whole chapter on this– but the time is not ripe. The music, now presto, accompanies Tamino in the lines, ‘Pamina, höre, höre mich! Umsonst, umsonst! Wo? Ach wo find’ ich dich?’ (Pamina, hear me! In vain, in vain! Where, oh where can I find you?). We hear the sound of Papageno’s panpipes in response to the call of the magic flute. Tamino enthusiastically calls again and leaves the stage running towards where he thinks he hears Papageno’s reply.

From the opposite direction, with the music andante in G major, Papageno’s key, Pamina and Papageno enter, running, looking for Tamino; Pamina calls him, ‘Holder Jüngling’ (charming young man), but Papageno tells her he can “do it better” and plays his panpipes again; the flute answers from offstage. Then Pamina and Papageno say that Tamino has heard them and that they will be happy when they find him, so they try to follow the sound of the magic flute, singing ‘Nur geschwinde, nur geschwinde...’ (we must hurry...).

Monostatos, in an allegro tempo, charges on stage making fun of the pair, repeating their ‘Nur geschwinde...’ and ordering his slaves to set them in chains. Papageno remembers that he too has a magic instrument and, playing his Glockenspiel, has the effect of making Monostatos and his slaves want only to dance, which they then do to something that sounds like a march, disappearing from the stage. Pamina and Papageno remain alone and intone another moralizing ditty, similar to those of the quintet with the Three Ladies, ‘Könnte jeder brave Mann...’ (If only every valiant man...), in which they observe that, with chimes such as these, any man’s enemies could be made to disappear, leaving him to live in perfect harmony with his neighbors: a harmony without which there can be no happiness on earth.

Trumpets and timpani and a large off-stage chorus announce the arrival of Sarastro, allegro maestoso in C major. Papageno is so afraid that wishes he was a mouse and could hid himself in a hole; he asks Pamina what they will say when the priest arrives. Pamina, to the accompaniment of bassoons and strings, answers with one of the most grandiose musical statements of the whole history of music: ‘Die Wahrheit, die Wahrheit, sei sie auch Verbrechen!’ (The truth, the truth, even if it means confessing to a crime!).

Sarastro makes his triumphant entry with a great march in C major for oboes, bassoons, trumpets, timpani and strings. The chorus, the men being the initiates and the women the wives of those of second category I guess, sing ‘Es lebe Sarastro! Sarastro soll leben!’ (Long live Sarastro!). When the procession has come to an end, Sarastro enters in a coach drawn by two teams of lions —a difficult thing to achieve in a conventional theatre, as it happens— and he alights as, once again, the triple chord from the beginning of the opera is played, this time in F major for flutes, bassoons, strings and the Masonic bassethorns, that continue to be used until the end of the act.

Pamina, in a very beautiful larghetto, kneels and admits her transgression in trying to escape, ‘Herr! Ich bin zwar Verbrecherin’ (I admit my guilt), but the real culprit is Monostatos, who wanted to have his way with her. Sarastro —with music that, according to George Bernard Shaw, could have been put into the mouth of God without blasphemy— tells her to get up, that she need not say anything, he knows she is in love, but he will not give her her freedom. Pamina, in C major, says she longs to be with her mother, which provokes Sarastro to say that, if he sends her back to her mother, that will be the end of her happiness; Pamina, her voice doubled by the wind parts, sings “how sweetly sounds my mother’s name...”, to which Sarastro replies firmly: ‘Und ein Stolzes Weib’ (An arrogant woman). What every woman needs is a man to guide her: without that guiding hand any woman “will step beyond her bounds” –another notion that has incited the feminists’ wrath).

The music suddenly accelerates to an allegro in F major, as Monostatos enters leading Tamino. The Prince and the Princess recognize each other –one of Schikaneder’s theatrical effects! – and embrace to the surprise of the multitude, that exclaims, ‘Was soll das heissen?’ (What does this mean?).  Monostatos pulls them apart and, kneeling before Sarastro, protests his loyalty and accuses Tamino, who with the help of a “strange bird”, tried to abduct Pamina. Sarastro, after telling him that his vigilance deserves laurels, orders the other slaves to give him just seventy-seven strokes on the soles of the feet. Monostatos protests that he was not expecting that, and Sarastro tells him he is only doing his duty.  The slaves, smiling, lead Monostatos away.

In an accompanied recitative, Sarastro says that Tamino and Papageno will be initiated.  For this purpose, the two priests cover their heads with hoods and lead them to one of the two side temples for their purification. The act ends with a chorus, ‘Wenn Tugend und Gerechtigkeit...’ (If virtue and uprightness...), in C major, presto, for the whole orchestra (bassethorns instead of clarinets), while Sarastro takes Pamina by the hand and they enter the Temple of Wisdom.

Act II

Act II starts in a grove of palm trees whose trunks are of gold and whose branches are of silver. In the grove there are eighteen seats made of palm branches, with a pyramid and a black and gilded horn on each of them. In the center there is a seat that stands out amongst the tallest palms.

A March No.9, accompanies the entry of Sarastro and the other seventeen priests of the Temple of Wisdom, each one with a palm in his hand; the eighteen priests represent another Masonic symbol, being “twice three times three”. The march, marked as sotto voce, is an andante in F major, orchestrated with a flute, bassethorns (indispensable in the Masonic rites), bassoons, horns, trombones and strings, the latter being added by Mozart who ignored Schikaneder’s specific instructions: “march with wind instruments”. As has already been mentioned, Mozart completed this march at the same time as the overture, two days before the opening.  He used a melody that Paul Wranitsky had employed in a march in his opera Oberon - to a libretto by Giesecke - that Schikaneder had produced in 1789.

Once seated, Sarastro addresses his fellow Masons –or, as I ought better to say, priests consecrated in this Temple to the gods Isis and Osiris– telling them that the young man Tamino, at twenty years of age, has decided to throw off the veils of ignorance and be initiated in the Order of the Temple of Wisdom, and that their task will be to help him to achieve this initiation.

The First Priest asks whether he is a virtuous young man and Sarastro answers in the affirmative. The Second Priest inquires about his discretion and the Third whether he is charitable, each receiving likewise an affirmative reply. All the priests take hold of their horns, and the wind instruments, bassethorns included, play the same chords that were heard in the middle of the overture.

Sarastro thanks those present for their willingness to allow Tamino to begin his initiation and tells them that Pamina has been promised by the gods to the young man, for which reason he has taken her away from her arrogant mother, who had nursed the intention of destroying the Temple and its brotherhood by deceiving the ignorant with superstitions.  Once again we hear the triple chords.

The priest identified as Sprecher in the libretto, who is not the same one who speaks to Tamino in the first act, doubts that Tamino, as a prince, will pass the trials of initiation.  Sarastro says that Tamino is more than just a prince: he is a man. The Speaker replies that Tamino may die in the tests, to which Sarastro retorts that in that case he will go to Isis and Osiris before the rest of them, which is also a blessing. The chords are repeated once more.

Sarastro orders Tamino and his companion to be taken to the patio in front of the Temple in order to begin the rites of initiation and tells the Speaker, who kneels, to demonstrate the power of the gods to those who are about to be initiated. The Speaker and another priest abandon the stage in search of Tamino and Papageno.

Sarastro begins a hymn, Arie mit chor No.10, ‘O Iris und Osiris’, in which the other initiates join, begging the gods to help those who are about to begin the tests and, should they die in the course of the initiation, to take them to their bosoms. The tempo of the aria and chorus is a very solemn adagio, once again in F major, for basset horns, bassoons, trombones, violins and one cello, really a very peculiar orchestration, in which Sarastro’s schwarz bass transmits a great sense of tranquillity to his co-initiates. When the chorus finishes, the priests follow Sarastro in his exit from the stage.

This scene, with its extremely solemn musical items and extended speech sections, may represent a whole initiation process for audiences, especially those who do not have a fair understanding of German. It is really a religious ceremony. It needs fair to good actors who do not merely recite their lines but pronounce them as if they really meant them; otherwise it can become tremendously boring.

The scene changes to a small Temple patio in which there are pyramids, columns and prickly shrubs. At the sides we see Egyptian-style doors that communicate with other buildings. Night has fallen.

The Speaker and the other priest introduce Tamino and Papageno, taking off their hoods and then immediately abandoning the stage.

Tamino asks Papageno where he thinks they are; the latter is about to answer when a peal of thunder is heard. The terrified Papageno says he has icy shivers running down his spine. Tamino tells him to be a man, to which Papageno answers that he would prefer to be a girl.

The priests return with torches and ask the two to explain their motives for being there. Tamino says he is impelled by wisdom and love. Even if it should turn out to be a battle for life and death? asks the First Priest. Yes, answers Tamino. The priest warns him that, after the next step, there is no turning back. Tamino replies that wisdom shall be his victory and Pamina his reward, and for this he is willing to undergo every trial. The priest then offers him his hand in a typical Masonic handshake.

The Second Priest asks Papageno whether he too is prepared to fight for the love of wisdom; Papageno answers that fighting is not his style, nor does he need wisdom since he is a child of nature who is satisfied with sleeping, eating and drinking, and his only remaining wish is that he might find a pretty wife... “You will never find her if you do not pass our trials”, says the Second Priest. “What trials?” asks Papageno. “You must accept all our laws and not fear death”, answers the Priest. “I’ll stay single”, says Papageno. The Priest then tries to arouse his appetite with “But what if Sarastro had a girl lined up for you whose color and garments were just like yours?” “Is she young?” asks Papageno.  “Young and beautiful,” answers the Priest... “and her name is Papagena... You can see her, but not talk to her”. Papageno also receives the Masonic handshake. The First Priest then tells Tamino that he is enjoined to the same vow of silence. He may see Pamina but not speak to her. The trials have begun.

The two priests intone a Duett No.11, ‘Bewahret euch vor Weibertücken: dies ist des Bundes erste Pflicht’ (Beware of women’s wiles: this is the first rule of our brotherhood). The duet, andante in C major, is oddly for the whole orchestra, since neither the characters nor the situation seem to call for it; it is rather bland, except for the last sentence, ‘Tod und Verzweiflung war sein Lohn’ (Death and despair were his reward), sung sotto voce. This sentence reappears later, in a totally different context; in the Queen of the Night’s second aria. The priests withdraw, leaving the postulants alone.

Papageno complains that it is always dark when there are no priests at hand, to which Tamino tells him to be patient.

Immediately the Three Ladies appear from the stage trap-doors, and begin the Quintett No.12, ‘Wie? Wie? Wie? Ihr an diesem Schreckensort?’ (What? what? what? You in this place of dread?), allegro in G major for flutes, oboes, horns and strings, in which they come across as real chatterboxes, whose aim is clearly to make the two novices fail in their first test: that of silence. The reason why they have come, so they say, is to save the two from certain death, which, of course, Papageno believes. Tamino, however, persuades him to keep his mouth shut; the women tell them that the Queen of the Night is already in the vaults under the temple and is going to rescue them; Tamino resists despite Papageno’s empty-headedness. The women finally accept defeat and begin their retreat in a passage in which all five sing in harmony, in the case of Tamino and the bird-man, of course, as an aside, since they are forbidden to speak to the women. Once again, the text is a moralizing sententia: ‘Von festem Geiste ist der Mann, er denket, was er sprechen kann!’ (A man is firm in spirit, he thinks before he speaks!), obviously a joke as far as Papageno is concerned. At this moment an invisible chorus of priests, to the accompaniment of thunder and lightning and with the addition of trumpets, trombones and timpani, exclaims in C minor: ‘Entweiht ist die heilige Schwelle! Hinab mit den Weibern zur Hölle!’ (The holy threshold is profaned; away with the women to Hell). The Three Ladies disappear through the trap-doors crying O weh! (Alas!), an exclamation taken up by the awe-struck Papageno as well.

Again we hear the triple chords of the overture as the Speaker and another priest enter to tell the initiates that they have passed the first test. The Speaker puts the hood on Tamino and leads him away for a further test. The other priest encourages Papageno, who pretends to have fainted, but the priest puts his hood on and leads him away too, as the bird-man wonders aloud whether love is really worth so much fuss.

The scene changes to a garden with trees forming the shape of a horse-shoe and, in the middle of them, a rose bush and Pamina sleeping amid the roses under the light of the moon. In front there is a bench.

Monostatos appears and, after a pause, he sits down on the bench. The object of his desire is there before his eyes and the two of them are alone; his face is glowing and he fans himself with his hands. Ah! if he could only give her a kiss!  He makes sure there is no one else there before beginning his Arie No.13, ‘Alles fühlt der Liebe Freuden’ (Every creature feels the joy of love), allegro in C major. This aria, with piccolo and flute, clarinets, bassoons and strings, consists of two verses to the same music, in which the blackamoor laments that everyone apart from him has access to the pleasures of love. “It must be because I’m black”, he muses, and finishes asking the moon to shut its eyes while he kisses this beautiful creature.

He is just about to satisfy this desire when a burst of thunder announces the arrival of the Queen of the Night from out of a trap-door beside Pamina’s bed of roses and repels Monostatos with a single word, ‘Zurück!’. Monostatos recognizes the Queen and decides to retreat to a point where he can eavesdrop on the conversation between mother and daughter.

The Queen of the Night, in a dialogue that is very important for one’s understanding of the opera, asks about Tamino, and Pamina tells her that he has begun his initiation in the Temple of Wisdom. The Queen, very annoyed, informs her daughter that her father, the former Sovereign, has taken away her power upon appointing Sarastro Regent, which was a terrible affront to her. The Queen is now ready to recover power for herself and so Pamina must either persuade Tamino to flee with her or kill Sarastro with the dagger she has sharpened especially for the occasion and now places in her daughter’s hand. At last it becomes clear that the opera is about a struggle for power.

Pamina, with a heavy heart, tries to answer, but is interrupted by the Queen, who refuses to hear another word and begins a furious Arie No.14, ‘Der Hölle Rache kocht in Meinem Herzen’ (Hell’s revenge burns within my heart).  The aria, allegro assai in an ominous D minor is orchestrated with flutes, oboes, bassoons, trumpets, timpani and strings. In it she tells Pamina that death and desperation –Tod und Verzweiflung– will fall upon her if she does not destroy Sarastro and, in an attempt at moral blackmail, she condemns her to be no longer her daughter if Sarastro is not made to feel the pain that she now feels, invoking the gods as witnesses to her oath: ‘Hört..., Rachegötter! Hört der Mutter Schwur!’ (Hear me, ye gods of vengeance! Hear the mother’s curse). The Queen finishes her tender message of love and disappears through the trap-door. If the aria in Act I gave rise to doubt, now we can be absolutely certain who the villain is; we also know what motivates her: the old story of power. This aria is probably the most difficult of all those written by Mozart, since it requires the singer repeatedly to reach high F: a note which actually falls outside the range of most sopranos. It has thus become the vehicle par excellence for those singers whose range extends that far to show off their prowess while avoiding confusing indignation and fury with an exhibition of vocal gymnastics.

Pamina is astounded, unable to believe that her mother can be obliging her to commit such a vile act. Monostatos then approaches telling her that he has heard everything, and so she had better favor him with her love or else he will tell everything he has heard to Sarastro, who will probably summon up the subterranean waters to drown the Queen of the Night. Pamina refuses to bestow her favors upon the blackamoor, who takes the dagger from her hand and threatens to kill her with it. Just at that moment Sarastro makes his entry. The High Priest detains Monostatos, who protests his innocence, but Sarastro tells him he has witnessed everything that has happened and knows that Monostatos’ heart is as black as his face. At this point all the objections of the Anglo-Saxon producers give way: Monostatos is indeed black, and in every sense. The slave driver leaves, shouting that he is going to join the Queen of the Night. Goethe wrote an unfinished sequel to Die Zauberflöte in which Monostatos marries the Queen.

Sarastro announces his intentions to Pamina: Tamino will pass the tests and the Queen will return to her circular temple since there is no room for vengeance among the initiated.  He intones his Arie No.15, ‘In diesen heil’gen Hallen...’ (In these sacred halls...), larghetto in E major with flutes, bassoons, horns and strings. This aria is the creed of the initiated at the Temple of Wisdom –and that of the Viennese Freemasons. In two verses resembling those of a religious hymn, repeated to the same music —as in Papageno’s aria in Act I or that of Monostatos moments before—, the aria speaks of the qualities of love and fraternity, without which nobody can be regarded as truly human. This aria marks a complete contrast with that of the Queen, and not only in so far as content is concerned; opposing love and fraternity to vengeance. Musically, the two arias contrast too, Sarastro’s –larghetto with its deep E– being at the opposite pole to that of the Queen – allegro assai with its ultra-high Fs. It is a sublime aria that, if badly conducted or sung, can sound extremely boring. At the end of the aria Sarastro and Pamina leave the stage together.

The scene now changes to a room with roses, benches and a door. Two priests lead in Tamino and Papageno without hoods. The first addresses Tamino, telling him to maintain his silence; when he hears the triple chords, he will be submitted to further tests. The Second Priest asks Papageno to be silent. Both priests then leave the stage.

As always, Papageno starts talking, despite Tamino’s attempts to quieten him. The bird-man complains of his hunger and thirst, and at that moment in comes an old woman carrying a jug of water. Papageno asks her to give him water and then, in jest, asks her how old she is. She gives him water, telling him she is eighteen years and two minutes old. To Papageno’s ironic question of whether she has a boyfriend, she says yes: his name is Papageno and he is sitting by her side. Papageno, in astonishment, throws the water in the old woman’s face and asks for her name as she disappears through a trap-door in the stage.

The gondola appears again floating in the air with the Three Boys in it, bearing the magic flute and Papageno’s glockenspiel, plus a table set for a meal. The Boys alight and sing a Terzett No.16, ‘Seid uns zum zweiten Mal willkommen’ (Welcome once again), allegretto in A major for flutes, bassoons and strings, in which they say that Sarastro sends them the flute and the bells and that the next time they meet joy will be their reward; they then take their leave, telling Tamino to have courage and Papageno to keep his mouth shut. They depart once more in their airborne gondola. This trio was one of the pieces repeated as an encore at every performance of the opera during Mozart’s lifetime on account of its great beauty.  It is the scene that also lends support to the idea that a change took place during the writing of the libretto, since initially the Boys appeared as vassals of the Queen of the Night, whereas now it is clear that they are on the side of Sarastro.

Papageno immediately begins to eat while Tamino plays the flute. Pamina arrives, attracted by the sound and expresses her happiness at finding the Prince, but he, honoring his vow of silence, does not answer her questions. Pamina then addresses Papageno, who is busy stuffing his mouth and so not only fails to speak but actually signals with his hand for her to go away.

Pamina feels deeply hurt and breaks into a great Arie No.17, ‘Ach, ich fühl’s, es ist verschwunden! Ewig hin der Lieben Glück! (Ah, I feel it, all is lost! Love’s joy is gone forever!), andante in a very sad G minor. This is one of the pieces we are waiting for from the moment the opera begins: one that we always want to listen to over and over again, since it is of the most sublime beauty. In my opinion, when we think of G minor in Mozart, ‘Ach ich fühl’s’ must take the predominant place, eclipsing even the first movement of the Symphony No.40 K 550. It is also evident, after hearing this aria, that Nanette Gottlieb, at her seventeen immature years, was already a great singer. If this were not so, Mozart would hardly have written this musical gem for her.

Pamina leaves the stage while Papageno continues to enjoy, in total abandonment, the culinary delights left by the Three Boys; his only words are to praise Sarastro’s chef and his cellars. The three chords are heard and six lions appear, terrifying Papageno. Tamino makes the lions withdraw to the sound of his flute and after hearing the three chords played twice, he leaves the stage taking Papageno with him.

The scene is now the interior of a pyramid into which Sarastro and several priests enter, carrying small lanterns of pyramidal shape. The priests are intoning the Chor, No.18 ‘O Isis und Osiris, welche Wonne!’ (O Isis and Osiris, what joy!), adagio in D major for the whole orchestra except for the clarinets and the timpani. The chorus is a quasi-religious hymn which prophesies the triumph of Tamino.

The Prince is brought in. Sarastro tells him that he has behaved like a man, but that there are still dangers to be faced and that the gods will keep him company if his heart still beats for Pamina and if he still wishes to govern. In some way, both forces, darkness and light, have chosen Tamino to be the next sovereign. Pamina is next brought in, wearing a hood as if she too were to be initiated; she is frightened and wants to see Tamino. Sarastro tells them to bid each other farewell.

Pamina begins a Terzett, No.19 ‘Soll ich dich, Teuerer! nicht mehr sehn?’ (Shall I see you, dear one, no more?), in which she expresses her fear for the dangers Tamino must face.  Sarastro says that they will meet again in joy and Tamino asks for the protection of the gods, avoiding addressing Pamina directly. Sarastro urges them to say goodbye, as the time has arrived for the tests: ‘Die Stunde schlägt nun müsst ihr scheiden’ (The hour has arrived, now you must part). The trio ends with Sarastro’s optimistic words, ‘Wir sehn uns wieder!’ (We shall meet again!), as all leave the stage. The trio, allegro moderato in E flat major, has a very simple orchestration –oboes, bassoons and strings– and is a piece showing a considerable change of style: already Beethovenian, according to some.  I would have said rather that the influence of this trio on the Prisoners’ Chorus in Fidelio makes that chorus a Mozartean piece. The new style displayed in this trio was not, unfortunately, to be continued by Mozart, who was already at death’s door when he finished Die Zauberflöte.

Papageno, lost and in a bad mood, enters blaming Tamino for his misfortunes, and tries to enter a door, from which he is repulsed with the familiar ‘Zurück!’ accompanied by thunder and lightning. He tries another door and receives the same response, which leaves him confused. The Speaker returns, carrying one of the pyramidal lanterns, to tell Papageno he will not be initiated. The only thing Papageno longs for is a glass of wine: a desire that is immediately fulfilled, a glass appearing magically from a trap-door in the stage. In a very good mood now, Papageno expresses his one remaining wish: a wife.

Papageno then sings what is the most popular melody of the opera, the Arie, No.20 ‘Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen’ (A girlfriend or a wife), with flutes, oboes, bassoons, horns, strings and the glockenspiel.  The aria, in F major, has three stanzas, andante the first two lines of each stanza, and allegro the following ones. The words expound the simple philosophy of the bird-man with a very simple melody in which the accompaniment of the glockenspiel is the most notable element. In one of the performances during October 1791, Mozart played the instrument himself, varying the tune, thus showing up Schikaneder who was pretending to play on stage. The melody had such a popular impact that even today in German-speaking countries, certain radio stations use it as their identifying signal.

In answer to Papageno’s prayer, the old woman reappears, dancing with the help of her walking stick. She has heard the aria and she offers him a deal: he must either promise to love her for ever as his wife, or he will be condemned to a diet of bread and water for the rest of his life. Papageno, appalled at the idea of such a thing, consents, in a spirit of pragmatism and without much enthusiasm. The old woman is then transformed into a beautiful young woman dressed exactly like himself. Papageno, in ecstasy, pronounces her name, “Papagena”, but the priests lead her away immediately, since he is still not worthy of her. “Zurück!”, says the First Priest once again. Papageno protests in desperation “I’d sooner be swallowed up by the earth than stand back”, and immediately the trap-door in the stage opens to receive him.

The scene now changes to a narrow garden in front of the proscenium arch. This is how the libretto specifies it, since the stage is now being prepared for the scene of the initiation tests. The Three Boys arrive in their gondola and the Finale No.21, begins, with an andante in E flat major, which in this case reflects emotional conflict, not Masonic brilliance, accompanied only by clarinets, bassoons and horns, which give it the ethereal quality proper to the Three Boys. They alight from the gondola as the strings join in, singing ‘Bald prangt, den Morgen zu verkünden, die Sonn auf gold’ner Bahn...’ (Soon, to announce the morning, the sun on its golden way...). They see Pamina, who approaches “tormented by the pains of rejected love” in the belief that Tamino no longer loves her, since he has not spoken to her. She carries the dagger given to her by her mother and has every intention of using it on herself. She speaks to it as if it were her betrothed, ‘Du also bist mein Bräutigam...!’ (You then are my bridegroom...!). As the flutes join in, the Three Boys tell her that suicide is a crime, but Pamina, abandoned by both her mother and her beloved, does not hear them. The Three Boys stop her, as the music changes to allegro, ‘Sollte dies dein Jüngling sehen...’ (If your young man should see this...), and assure her that Tamino does indeed love her, although they are not allowed to divulge the reasons for his strange behavior. They offer to take her to him, to which she gladly agrees. Another moralizing verse ends the quartet: ‘Zwei Herzen, die von Liebe Brennen, Kann Menschenohnmacht niemals trennen’ (Two hearts that burn with love can never be set apart by human frailty). Pamina’s melodic line, lovely throughout the whole scene, becomes even more delightful at the end, as she holds onto a long high b’’ followed by a descending scale of rare beauty. The Three Boys lead Pamina, now transfigured by joy, away with them.

The scene changes again. Now we behold a place where two mountains meet. Within one mountain we see a waterfall, while the other contains fire, glimpsed between iron bars. On the side of the fire mountain, the sky is red and on the other side, black with menacing clouds. In the middle we see a pyramid with a translucent inscription; to either side a rocky landscape with sheer crags. Tamino, barefoot and lightly dressed, as in a Masonic initiation, is led in by two men with black armor –zwei geharnischte Männer– with lighted torches on their helmets.

The music, adagio in an ominous C minor, begins with three chords like those that begin the Overture, on the trombones and strings, answered by the flutes, oboes, bassoons and cellos. Then the strings introduce a fugato in the style of J.S. Bach, which will accompany the two armed men as they begin to sing, to the accompaniment of flutes, oboes, bassoons and trombones, the words of the inscription they read on the pyramid: ‘Der welcher wandert diese Strasse voll Beschwerden, wird rein durch Feuer, Wasser, Luft und Erden’ (He who treads this road full of care is purified by fire, water, air and earth). The tune is that of the Lutheran choral ‘Ach Gott, von Himmel sie darein’, based on Psalm XI.
It is worthy of note that the Men in Armor mention the four elements, which correspond to four tests; however, we only witness two.

The music of the Men in Armor must have sounded doubly strange to the audience of Die Zauberflöte; the music of Bach is much better known to us today than to the audiences of Mozart’s Vienna –setting aside Mozart himself, who had studied Bach at the suggestion of Baron van Swieten– while, for religious reasons, the Lutheran chorales were almost unknown in Catholic Vienna.

The Men in Armor finish their lines and Tamino reiterates his faith in his ability to achieve victory. He asks them to begin the tests. The voice of Pamina is heard off-stage, allegretto, without trombones. Tamino asks whether it is Pamina, and this is confirmed by the Men in Armor. Tamino receives their authorization to speak to her and is told that she too will undertake the tests. This inspires Tamino and the two men to take up another moralizing verse: ‘Ein Weib, das Nacht und Tod nicht scheut, ist würdig, und wird eingeweiht’ (A woman who fears neither night nor death is worthy and shall be initiated). Pamina enters and the two embrace, while they express their happiness and their resolve to face all the tests together. The music is andante in F major. Pamina sings another glorious piece that ends with her asking Tamino to play his flute, which had been carved by her father “in a magic hour” from the heart of a thousand-year-old oak, during a thunderstorm. Tamino, Pamina and the two men sing a brief quartet in which they say they will “wander gladly through death’s dark night” guided by the power of the flute. No commentator has satisfactorily explained the fact that Pamina should finally have been initiated, when women were expressly forbidden to enter the Viennese lodges.

To the sound of the flute, accompanied by horns, trumpets, trombones and timpani, a march, adagio in C major, accompanies Pamina and Tamino into the mountain of fire and we see them pass behind the iron bars. On coming out again, they express their satisfaction at having survived that trial unscathed, before entering the mountain of water, once again protected by the sound of the magic flute. They come out again victorious and, after a brief pause during which a door is opened allowing us to glimpse the brilliantly lit interior of a temple, the trumpets and timpani strike up a beautiful chorus in C major, in which the oboes and horns join in, to welcome the neophytes: ‘Triumph..., du edles Paar...!’ (Triumph... you noble couple...!).

The scene changes once again to the narrow garden. Papageno is desperately trying to find Papagena, and playing his panpipes to announce his presence. Papagena! Papagena! Papagena! sings the bird-man, allegro in G major for flutes, oboes, bassoons, horns and strings. Nobody answers his call and he recognizes it is his fault for not bridling his tongue as was required. He addresses Papagena, among other endearments, as Herzensweibchen, (“little wife of my heart”, literally), which apparently was Mozart’s way of addressing Constanze. Depressed, with the music now in G minor, he resolves to hang himself from a tree, counting to three, in the hope that someone will appear to stop him –an old trick of commedia dell’arte. He counts very slowly and, as there is nobody in sight to prevent the act, he sadly takes leave of the world with the words ‘gute Nacht, du falsches Welt!’ (good night, false world!).

The Three Boys, experts in preventing suicides, alight rapidly from their gondola and remind him, in allegretto in C major, that he has forgotten about magic. Papageno then happily plays his glockenspiel, allegro, while asking for his “little wife” to be brought: ‘Bringt mein Weibchen her’. The Three Boys tell him to look around, and are gone.

And lo and behold, there is Papagena! The bird-man and woman dance, singing the syllable Pa to each other and then repeating it together, over and over again, first Papageno, then Pagagena. They embrace and then move away together, happy to have found each other in the end and expressing the desire to have many little Papagenos and Papagenas. This scene is extremely popular and producers have tried just about everything in order to exploit its humorous possibilities to the maximum. According to Igor Stravinsky, it is proto-Broadway, except in so far as the music is concerned.

From the trap-doors in the stage appear the Queen of the Night and her Three Ladies, plus Monostatos, with black torches in their hands. The music, in C minor, is marked più moderato for flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons and strings. They have come to destroy the inhabitants of the Temple of Wisdom, who are now meeting in the temple’s principal room. Monostatos reminds the Queen that Pamina is to be his reward and this is confirmed by the Queen and her Ladies. With impressively constructed harmony, the Three Ladies and Monostatos kneel together to swear loyalty to the Queen: ‘Dir, grosse Königin der Nacht, sei unsrer Rache Opfer gebracht’ (To you, great Queen of the Night, we offer up the sacrifice of our revenge!). At this moment a deafening chord is heard played by the full orchestra; the stage darkens and we hear thunder as the conspirators are swallowed up by the trap-doors.

The scene is now a sun, according to the libretto. On a raised part in the center is Sarastro, with Tamino and Pamina both dressed as priests. The Three Boys also appear with flowers in their hands. The whole community is gathered. Sarastro announces the victory of the forces of the Sun over those of the Night, beginning a beautiful chorus, andante in E flat major, which forms the triumphal ending to the opera: ‘Heil sei euch Geweihten!’ (Hail to you who are initiated!).


Die Zauberflöte is more than the swan song of a great composer. It is an opera that mixes elements of extreme farce, in practically all Papageno’s appearances – which Schikaneder must have enjoyed immensely– and even in some of the appearances of the Three Ladies, with elements of deep religious seriousness – in Sarastro and in all the initiated in general.  It is both a fairy tale and a parable of the Viennese Freemasons, being interpreted by some as a cry from the heart of Austrian Masonry, which was refusing to die at the hands of Leopold II.

Schikaneder and Mozart had just revealed what was in fact an open secret: the ceremonies and values of the Freemasons. More through music than words, Mozart achieves some mysterious, ethereal and sublime harmonies that lead us to meditate on transcendental values while laughing at the adventures of Papageno.

During the months of October and November of 1791, Mozart was writing a mass for the dead, the Requiem. Nevertheless, without in any way disparaging the extraordinary quality of this unfinished masterpiece, it is in Die Zauberflöte that the composer best expressed his religious preoccupations, transposed upon his Masonic convictions.

Of the music of Die Zauberflöte, Stravinsky remarked ironically that Mozart openly plagiarized Weber, Wagner and Mendelssohn –he had already plagiarized Schubert in Le nozze di Figaro– in the Trio No.19, he shamelessly copied Wagner: everything from Tannhäuser to Tristan und Isolde.  In the chorus from Act I, Bald, Bald, Jüngling, he used phrases from Rigoletto and in Drei Knaben, jung, schön, hold und weise, he used what could well have been music written by Ravel for a rainy afternoon.

Alfred Einstein claims that this opera is neither Italian, like Mozart’s three works in collaboration with Da Ponte, nor German, as Die Entführung aus dem Serail had been.  It is, rather, strictly Mozartean.  It displays a new style, doomed to disappear immediately due to the composer’s death.

Mozart needed a big success in the plebeian Theater auf der Wieden and he achieved it to a degree undreamed of, despite having embarked on a change of style and using new elements, such as the predominant place given to the trombones and elements so foreign to the Viennese as the Lutheran choral from the finale of the second Act.

To think of what might have followed if Mozart had survived longer than the nine weeks after the opening of Die Zauberflöte is a pointless exercise, although it is hard to resist the temptation of imagining the concerto for Piano, No.36, the Symphony, No.47, or his collaboration with Goethe on the score for the opera of Faust.

The Theater auf der Wieden was demolished not many years after the first performance of Die Zauberflöte, and Schikaneder moved the company to a new, more dignified theatre nearby, the Theater an der Wien, at which a statue of Papageno was erected in a conspicuous place, in homage to the success achieved by this character among the people of Vienna.  It was in this theatre, before Papageno’s smiling face, that Beethoven was to stage the first performances of most of his compositions between 1803 and 1807, of particular note being the Eroica Symphony and Leonore.

Every time we see a performance of Die Zauberflöte, we experience the same old excitement when the Overture heralds the opening of the work, the same wonder and admiration at the prowess of the soprano capable of interpreting the arias of the Queen of the Night; Sarastro and his priests arouse respect in us, especially the Sprecher and the Men in Armour. We would like to help Tamino, that innocent hero, valiant and pure, prototype of the German hero, Siegfried in Egypt. Once again we relish the buffoonery of Papageno, who, we do not doubt for a moment, will come through any danger alive and well. We delight in his duet with Papagena, this elderly young woman of eighteen years and two minutes. The Three Ladies will amuse us with their coquetry and the Three Boys will captivate us with their ethereal harmonies. Monostatos and his blackness will embarrass us less than the exaggerated preoccupations of those who find his blackness an embarrassment.

Die Zauberflöte is an opera of contrasts – good and evil; light and darkness; high notes and low notes; heroism and cowardice; largo and allegro– in which the music is uniform, uniformly beautiful and intelligent. The ideal is an interpretation in which we might see Sarastro as in a mirror that reflects back the smiling figure of Papageno.

Mozart shows in Die Zauberflöte that the general public is hungry for what we nowadays would call a “quality product”. It was for this reason that he put all his genius to work to compose this masterpiece that is both a climax of human intelligence and an opera for the people.

© Luis Gutierrez Ruvalcaba