Cheat Sheet: The Magic Flute
Everything you need to know about Mozart’s popular fantasy, The Magic Flute.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
How do you know you’re listening to Mozart? The melodies are beautiful, and there are a whole lot of notes!
When Mozart lived in Salzburg, the emperor is said to have remarked of his music:
“Too beautiful for our ears, my dear Mozart, and vastly too many notes!”
To which Mozart supposedly replied: “Just as many as are necessary, your majesty!”
Mozart’s operas do include lots of decorative notes, often sung very quickly. Listen out for the Queen of the Night’s famous Act I aria, which practically requires vocal acrobatics.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
A handsome prince sets out on an adventure to rescue a damsel in distress. He takes along a cowardly but good-natured birdcatcher, Papageno, who is more interested in finding a wife than seeking adventure.
Along the way, the Prince Tamino meets a Queen who is not as nice as she seems, and a villain by the name of Monostatos, who is just as bad as he seems.
Tamino, Papageno and the princess Pamina must all trust in the power of music to lead them through the dark and dangerous adventures ahead…
Who are the main players?
Tamino: a young prince who sets out on an adventure to find and rescue his princess.
Papageno: a bird-catcher who becomes Tamino's sidekick. He’s a simple guy who just dreams of having a girlfriend!
Queen of the Night: a starry queen who pretends to be on Tamino’s side at their first meeting, but we’ll soon find out she’s not as nice as she seems! Listen out when she sings: her songs have very, very high notes!
Sarastro: High Priest of the Sun. At the start of the opera, we think he’s the bad guy (but we might change our minds as the story goes on).
Pamina: the Queen of the Night's beautiful daughter. She’s a damsel-in-distress, locked up in Sarastro's house and awaiting rescue. She’s also very brave, standing up to her mother!
Monostatos: Sarastro's mean and greedy servant. He’s not really loyal to anyone and goes after anything he wants!
The Queen of the Night sings a famous aria (“The vengeance of hell boils in my heart”). In the aria, the soprano must hit a high F over and over again. It’s incredibly difficult so the aria is a great piece for a soprano to show off their skills.
You might also know the Papageno/Papagena duet from the movie Amadeus.
Something to listen out for
Mozart wrote themes for each of his characters, so you can often tell someone is coming before they reach the stage. The priest Sarastro’s music is deep, low and slow, while the Queen of the Night’s music is fast, agile and very high.
Julie Taymor created and directed this production for the Metropolitan Opera of New York in 2005.
It features an abridged version of Mozart’s score, with a charming new English translation by J. D. McClatchy. Taymor (famous for her Broadway production of The Lion King) filled her production with bright colours, giant puppets, flying birds and an impressive perspex set. It's perfect for children, as well as adults.
Opera Australia mounted the production for the first time in 2012, building the props and scenery in-house.
Mozart conducted the première and felt the opera was an immediate success, writing to his wife to say, “But what always gives me the most pleasure is the silent approval! You can see how this opera is becoming more and more esteemed…”
Sadly, Mozart died just two months later of a terrible illness which caused his body to swell (although conspiracy theorists throw around theories about poison, historians believe it was most likely rheumatic fever). The last piece of music he ever wrote was his famous Requiem, which he claimed to be writing for himself!
- Mozart’s full name was Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart. Truly.
- Mozart wrote a few of the roles in The Magic Flute for close friends: Tamino for Benedikt Schack, the Queen of the Night for his sister in law Josepha Hofer and Papageno for the librettist, Schikaneder.
- Scientists of the Royal Society subjected a 10-year-old Mozart to a series of tests to prove he was actually a child genius, not a skilled dwarf.
- Mozart produced over 600 works in his 35 years, starting at the age of 5.
The Magic Flute as a children's story
We rewrote The Magic Flute as a bedtime story for children, using photographs from our production. It's a great way to introduce children to the story, characters and production. Download the bedtime story here. We've also made a printable colouring-in sheet for kids (or adults!).
The composer: Mozart. A very famous German composer and child genius.
The music: Mozart wrote beautiful melodies, often with lots decorative notes. They sound impressive to the audience and are difficult for the singers.
The big hit: the Queen of the Night's aria, and the Papageno/Papagena duet.
The setting: Set in a magical land in a fantasy time, it's open to interpretation.
The history: Mozart wrote this opera for a local playhouse, intending it for 'average joes', not the aristocrats common to the opera theatre at the time.
A quirky fact to impress your date: Scientists of the Royal Society subjected a 10-yr-old Mozart to a series of tests to prove he was actually a child genius, not a skilled dwarf.