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The Magic Flute

by Mozart


[This synopsis, like my others, is very, very brief. The reason is that I find the normal programme note much too long, and needlessly detailed and complicated. What I want is more of an overview. If I’ve read an overview – a sort of synopsis of a synopsis – I find that, particularly with the help of surtitles, there is then absolutely no need for a blow-by-blow description of the plot.]


The Magic Flute is about the triumph of good over evil, with all kinds of Masonic and religious overtones.


The basic story is simple. Tamino, a prince, is persuaded by the Queen of the Night to rescue her daughter Pamina from captivity under the supposedly evil High Priest, Sarastro. But Tamino discovers that Sarastro is by no means evil. Tamino learns of Sarastro’s high ideals and wants to follow him. This involves a series of tests, which Tamino passes. The Queen of the Night is vanquished. Tamino and Pamina are united.


But it is all more complicated. Initially, the Queen of the Night seems good, with her Ladies rescuing Tamino from a serpent. She promises him Pamina, with whom he has fallen in love on the strength of a portrait, if he rescues her.


Also initially, one assumes Sarastro to be evil, imprisoning Pamina and being attended by the undoubtedly evil Monostatos, a “blackamoor”, and his slaves.


But this turns out to be wrong. Sarastro is really a benevolent and enlightened priestly figure. He prays to Isis and Osiris. He explains that the Queen of the Night is a wicked woman and that he is holding Pamina to protect her from the wiles of her mother and the three Lady attendants. (Sarastro, although virtuous, has old-fashioned views about women in general.)


Sarastro sets various tests for Tamino to become enlightened and to be worthy of Pamina.


Some of the tests involve his being silent, particularly in the face of the three Ladies, who try to get him to speak.


Tamino is helped by his magic flute, originally given to him by the three Ladies.


Tamino is accompanied by the comic bird-catcher Papageno, who is in turn helped by his magic bells. He eventually falls for the lovely Papagena, who first appears to him as an elderly crone.


At the end, Monostatos appears with the Queen of the Night, bent on revenge. But they are cast out into eternal darkness.

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