Complete Story of Die Zauberflöte

Die Zauberflöte or The Magic Flute is a long opera bursting with sub plots and characters. Over the decades, it’s been chopped up in production more times than your last steak tartare. This detailed outline gives you an efficient reference to exactly what happens in this work as apparently staged by Schikaneder and conducted by Mozart. With this outline you can tell what changes have been made in whatever version of the opera you are viewing in your home theater or see in an opera house.

I made this outline from what purports to be the full score in German originally published by C. F. Peters, Leipzig and now reproduced by Dover Publications, Inc., New York (ISBN 0-486-34783-X). In addition to the music, the Peters score has stage directions and all the spoken dialogue, including passages that are important to the plot but often cut in productions. Following the Overture, the First Act has 19 scenes, and the Second Act no fewer than 30.

Schikaneder’s libretto provides a logical (by fairy tale standards) explanation to everything that happens in the opera. To demonstrate this, I think it’s wise to report on all 49 scenes. The Peters score has a Table of Contents (which is often followed in arranging chapters to video disks of the opera). This Table of Contents doesn’t help much in understanding this opera. Still, to help you keep your bearings, each musical passage set out with a number in the original Table of Contents is noted in italics in this outline. Further, when songs are identified in the Table of Contents with quotations of their opening words, I have included those words in the outline in bold. (There are many shorter songs in the opera that are not mentioned in the Table of Contents.) Material taken from the spoken parts are enclosed in brackets [xxxxx]. (Warning—loose translations of lyrics ahead, which I’ve written to match the music rather than the text.)


Once upon a time a wise man ruled a strange land (a little like Austria and a little like Egypt) on the other side of the mountains. We don’t know his name, but I surmise he was the King of the Day because he was married to the Queen of the Night. The Queen apparently obeyed the King. But she was a proud and sensuous woman, and perhaps a bit unsatisfied, if you know what I mean, by her cloud-dwelling husband. They had a beautiful daughter named Pamina.

The King was possessed of elevated knowledge. For example, one night he carved (by lightening, thunder, storm, and stress) a magic flute from the heart of a thousand-year-old oak (Act II, Scene 28). His powers came from the talisman of the Seven Solar Secrets which he wore on his breast (Act II, Scene 8). (“Seven Solar Secrets” is my stab at “siebenfachen Sonnenkreis,” a non-sensible and un-translatable mouthful.)

Shortly before his death, the King entrusted possession of the Seven Solar Secrets to his wise friend and executor, Sarastro, leader of the Band of the Initiated. The King also directed the Queen to be guided after his death by Sarastro (Act II, Scene 8). But after the King died, the Queen rebelled. Sarastro sequestered Pamina for her own protection . . . .

Act I

Scene 1

No.1. Introduction (Tamino, the Three Ladies)

  • Tamino, a prince, tender at age 20 (Act II, Scene 1), is fleeing through the mountains from a reptilian monster. Tamino sings “Zu Hülfe, zu Hülfe” (“Oh, help me! Oh, help me!”). No Hercules type, our hero faints as the monster closes in.
  • Three virgin, veiled ladies with spears come out of a ruined temple, the home of the Queen of the Night. Singing “Stirb Ungeheu’r” (“Die, reptilian!”) they attack and hack the beast in two. After reveling at their victory, they notice how handsome Tamino is. Maybe he can make the Queen feel better again! Each wants to guard Tamino alone while the others report to the Queen. They reach a stalemate, and all depart together. Tamino awakes and is astonished to see the dead beast. “Where am I?” he asks.

Scene 2

No. 2. Aria (Papageno)

  • Papageno, dressed in bird-feather camouflage, arrives with birdcage and panpipe. He sings "Der Vogelfänger bin ich ja.” (“Yes, I’m the man who catches birds.”) making it clear that he’s bored with his bird-catching job and thinking only about catching a girl.
  • [Tamino and Papageno become friends. (Everybody in this opera speaks to everybody else in the German language familiar “du” form.) Tamino explains he’s a prince from afar. Papageno explains that he catches birds for the Queen of the Night, who lives in the nearby temple. Papageno takes credit for killing the monster.]

Scene 3

[The three ladies return to punish Papageno for his lie about saving the prince. They slap a lock on his mouth. They also give Tamino a picture of the princess Pamina. Tamino is smitten—it’s his first love—and it’s love at first sight—and it’s just a picture!]

Scene 4.

No. 3. Aria (Tamino)

Tamino sings of his love in “Dies Bildniss ist bezaubernd schön.” (“This picture is enchantingly me.”)

Scene 5

[The three ladies then reveal that Pamina was taken away by a villain (Sarastro) who lives in a near-by castle. But she has, the ladies report, preserved herself from shame. Tamino is inflamed with the mission of rescuing her. Then they hear the sound of thunder—the Queen is coming.]

Scene 6

No. 4. Aria (Queen of the Night)

The Queen sings “O zitt’re nicht, mein lieber Sohn.” (“Oh, tremble not, my darling son.”) in which she explains how the evil villain Sarastro ripped Pamina from her. She accepts Tamino’s pledge to rescue Pamina and promises to give Pamina in marriage to Tamino if he succeeds. The Queen departs.

Scene 7

No. 5 Quintet. (Tamino, Papageno, the Three Ladies)

  • [Tamino, more than a bit bewildered, asks the gods for help with his new mission of saving Pamina.]
  • His prayer is rudely interrupted by Papageno, still mouth-blocked, begging for help himself by singing the word “Hm” (“Hm”) 68 times. Poor Tamino doesn’t know what to do.

Scene 8

  • But soon the three ladies appear again. Singing “Die Königin begnadigt dich.” (“Our gentle queen releases you.”), they unlock Papageno’s mouth.
  • Finally we get to the quintet. Tamino, Papageno, and the three ladies join forces and sing that if all liars would have their lips locked, the world would have more love and brotherhood and less hate and slander.
  • Next the ladies arm Tamino (who is not that skilled with weapons) with a magic flute, a gift from the queen to help Tamino in his quest to rescue Pamina. The magic flute protects its possessor and gives him the ability to change people for the better and be happier! (The stage directions say the flute is gold—a bit problematical since Pamina tells us later that the flute was made from an oak.)
  • Against his better judgment, Papageno is also recruited to become Tamino’s sidekick. He is armed with a magic glockenspiel in a quaint chest.
  • Finally, Tamino remembers to ask for directions to Sarastro’s lair. In answer, three sprites appear (probably in a cloud or hot-air balloon). The three ladies sing that the sprites will give advice to Tamino and Papageno in their adventure. (The sprites do not sing at this point).

Scene 9

[The scene shifts to a room in Sarastro’s castle. Three slaves, who admire Pamina, gleefully gossip about her escape from their lascivious, pot-bellied, and black foreman of slaves (Monostatos).]

Scene 10

[Monostatos and other slaves appear in the distance with Pamina in tow.]

Scene 11

No 6. Trio (Monostatos, Pamina, and Papageno)

Monostatos, singing “Du feines Täubchen nur herein.” (“You, lovie, dovie—come right in!”) arrives with Pamina and calls for chains. Pamina faints. Monostatos runs off the slaves so he can be alone with Pamina.

Scene 12

Happily, Papageno, who has been sent out by Tamino as advance scout, arrives. He and Monostatos surprise each other. Papageno has never seen a black man. Monostatos has never seen a birdfeather hunting outfit. Both thinks the other is the devil, and both run off in terror.

Scene 13

[Pamina recovers from her faint. Ever the good girl, she laments her separation from her mother.]

Scene 14

No. 7. Duet (Pamina and Papageno)

[Monostatos is still gone, and Papageno and Pamina get a chance to talk. Papageno says he’s looking for the daughter of the Queen of the Night and identifies Pamina through the picture the queen gave Tamino. Pamina has heard about the bird-catcher and quickly warms up to him. Papageno then tells Pamina of Tamino’s love for her and his plan to rescue her. Thrilled, Pamina asks, “Where is this prince?” Papageno explains that Tamino is still back at home-base, waiting for advice from the sprites. Pamina is suspicious of a trick. But when Papageno tells her how lonesome he is without a mate, she can see his innocent heart.]

At this point the opera moves from the level of the spectacular to the sublime with the duet of Pamina and Papageno “Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen.” (“With men and women who know how to feel love.”).

No 8. Finale to Act 1 (has 5 scenes and takes up 42 pages in the Peters score)

Scene 15

  • The three sprites have finally appeared to Tamino. Unexpectedly, they didn’t take him to Pamina at Sarastro’s castle. Instead, they took him to the seat of Sarastro’s Band of the Initiated. As the scene opens, Tamino sees a Temple to Wisdom (“Weisheit”), a Temple to Reason (“Vernunft”), and a Temple to Nature (“Natur”).
  • The three sprites sing “Zum Ziele führt dich diese Bahn.” (“The path here leads you to your goal.”).
  • Tamino sings “Die Weisheitslehre dieser Knaben.” (“The wisdom teaching of these boys.”). Tamino is impressed with the Temples, which seem to be a holy place. “Is this the seat of the gods?” he asks. Still, he hopes to find a clue to the whereabouts of the villain Sarastro.
  • After knocking on three doors, Tamino is admitted for an audience with a priest. The priest explains to Tamino that Sarastro isn’t a villain, but a lordly wise man. Tamino has been misled by the Queen of the Night, and Pamina has been taken from her mother for a good reason.
  • Now Tamino is sorely conflicted:
    • Tamino asks the Priest when the truth will be revealed to him. The answer: As soon as Tamino has joined the Band of the Initiated! Tamino realizes that the sprites have diverted him from a rescue mission and have involved him in something even grander: a rite of passage.
    • Tamino then asks the shadows when the truth will be revealed to him. The answer: “Soon or never.”
    • Tamino asks the shadows if Pamina is still alive. The answer: “She lives.”
  • Rejoicing, Tamino plays the magic flute in thanks to the gods. In a famous episode, wild animals cuddle, charmed, to his knee. Tamino sings, “Wie stark ist nicht dein Zauberton.” (“ How strong can I say is your magic song.”) and raises a plaintive call to Pamina. But Pamina doesn’t answer, and Tamino still doesn’t know where she is.
  • Suddenly, Tamino hears Papageno’s panpipe. Tamino answers with the magic flute. Maybe Papageno has found Pamina!

Scene 16

Indeed, Papageno and Pamina have escaped. Running from Monostatos, they sing “Schnelle Füsse, rascher Mut.” (“Speedy footies, have no fear.”) and try to home in on Tamino through the call and answer of their instruments.

Scene 17

  • Alas, Monostatos intercepts the fugitives and rejoices with “Ha, hab’ ich euch noch erwischt!” (“Ha, I’ve caught you both again!”). But before he can put them in irons, Papageno screws up his courage and tries out the glockenspiel. Charmed by the bells, Monostatos and the slaves sing “Das klinget so herrlich.” (“That sounds, oh, so splendid.”) and march jovially away!
  • Pamina and Papageno sing a short duet celebrating the magic of the bells.
  • Pamina and Papageno then hear a fanfare and chorus (offstage) singing “Es lebe Sarastro! Sarastro lebe!” (“Long live Sarastro, Sarastro live long!”)—Sarastro is coming.
  • Papageno is terrified. “What can we say?” he asks. Pamina answers, “The truth.”

Scene 18

  • Sarastro arrives in a chariot pulled by six lions. Pamina, now twice escaped and recaptured, is in trouble. She confesses to Sarastro in “Herr, ich been zwar Verbrecherin” (“Lord, I know that I did the deed.”). But she blames her flight on Monostatos, who demanded love. Sarastro explains that he knows of Pamina’s love for Tamino and will not interfere, but he cannot yet set Pamina free.
  • Next Pamina sings of her desire to return to her mother, but is cut off by Sarastro. He explains that the Queen is now in his power. It would be ruinous for Pamina to return to her. The Queen is too proud. A woman steps out of line when she doesn’t submit to the man in charge!

Scene 19

  • Monostatos, singing “Nun stolzer Jüngling, nur hieher.” (“Now right over here my fine young friend.”), arrives with a new prisoner: Tamino! Tamino and Pamina recognize each other, embrace, and are rudely parted by Monostatos.
  • Monostatos prosecutes Tamino and “this strange bird” Papageno for abetting Pamina’s attempted escape. But the tables are turned when Sarastro instead convicts Monostatos of harassing Pamina and condemns him to 77 licks to the footsoles.
  • Now Tamino and Papageno, sent out as commandos by the Queen, are turncoats. Sarastro orders that both be blindfolded and bound over to the Temple for testing as candidate members of the Band of the Initiated! But only one will make it.
  • The chorus closes the First Act with “Wenn Tugend und Gerechtigkeit.” (“When virtue and the love of truth.”) a hymn of praise to the gods for the gift of righteousness.

Act II

Scene 1

The first scene of Act II opens as Sarastro and priests march solemnly to assembly.

No. 9. March of the Priests. (Chorus)

No. 9a. The Triple Chord (Orchestra)

[Sarastro speaks to the assembly. He reports that Tamino wishes to join the Band of the Initiated. Pamina is destined to be his. But the Queen of the Night, overestimating herself, is trying to stir up the people, thru deception and superstition, to destroy the Band of the Initiated and their Temple. Sarastro has sequestered Pamina to preserve her for Tamino while he undergoes the trials required to join the Band. But what, asks one of the priests, if Tamino should die at trial?]

No. 10. Aria with Chorus

To answer, Sarastro, joined by the chorus, sings the prayer “O Isis und Osiris, schenket der Weisheit Geist.” (“Oh, Isis and Osiris, give this new pair the spirit.”) asking the gods to admit the candidates to heaven should they die at trial.

Scene 2

[Tamino and Papageno find themselves in a dark chamber as thunder reports outside. Papageno is terrified.]

Scene 3

[Priests enter. Tamino declares himself ready for every test. Papageno, however, is not enthusiastic. But he agrees to proceed when a priest tells him that he can see Papagena, a girl that Sarastro found for him. The priests explain that both candidates will see their sweethearts, but neither may speak to them. Finally, the priests declare that the time of trials has begun.]

No. 11. Duet (two Priests)

The first event in the time of trials is a lecture in song by two priests, “Bewahret euch vor Weibertücken.”(“Watch out for tricks or lies from women.”).

Scene 4

[Tamino and Papageno are back in a dark chamber. Papageno whines.]

Scene 5

No. 12. Quintet. (Tamino, Papageno, and the Three Ladies)

The three ladies appear to begin the first test: the trial of temptation. Singing “Wie? wie? wie? Ihr an diesem Schreckensort?” (”How? how? how? in this this charnel house?”) the ladies try their best to talk (sing) the candidates into leaving the Temple. Tamino stands fast and is able (barely) to keep chatterbox Papageno in line. The ladies give up. They then join the candidates in a quintet celebrating the masculine virtue of think-before-you-speak. Abruptly, a terrible chord from the entire orchestra arrives with thunder, and the three ladies drop into hell! Papageno is completely unnerved.

Scene 6

[A priest enters the chamber, congratulates Tamino for his steadfastness, and leads him out. Papageno is still on the floor in shock. Another priest is barely able to get him on his feet.]

Scene 7

No. 13. Aria. (Monostatos)

Now we leave our candidates. We see Pamina asleep in a bed in a garden. Monostatos, starved for love, works up his courage to steal a kiss. He sings “Alles fühlt der Liebe Freuden.” (“We all know how love makes us feel good.”) and is about to touch Pamina.

Scene 8

No. 14. Aria. (Queen of the Night)

[The Queen interrupts Monostatos and he retreats to observe. Pamina awakes. The Queen asks for Tamino. Pamina says that Tamino has withdrawn from the world and from her to join the Band of the Initiates. Enraged, the Queen explains how the King on his death left his wealth to her and to Pamina. But he gave the Seven Solar Secrets to Sarastro and ordered the Queen to follow the rule of the Initiates. The Queen then gives a dagger to Pamina and orders her to kill Sarastro and deliver the Seven Solar Secrets to her. And if Pamina fails, her punishment is explained by the queen in her famous aria “Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen.” (“The rage of hell roils in my bosom.”).

Scene 9

[Alone again, Pamina declares that she cannot commit murder.]

Scene 10

[Monostatos steals out of the shadows. He threatens to inform on the Queen and Pamina as would be murderers unless Pamina will accept his advances. She refuses.]

Scene 11

[Sarastro appears. Monostatos falls back, talking fast. Sarastro says that he would severely punish Monostatos, but relents since this whole business began with the plot of a bad woman, who nevertheless has a good daughter. Leaving, Monostatos says (aside) that since he’s had no success with the daughter, he will seek out the mother. Thus Monostatos also becomes a turncoat.]

Scene 12

[Pamina pleads with Sarastro not to punish the Queen. Sarastro replies that no punishment will be necessary. If Tamino survives his trials, Pamina will enjoy happiness with him, and the Queen will, shamed, retire to her castle.]

No. 15. Aria (Sarastro)

Sarastro sings a hymn of forgiveness, “In diesen heil’gen Hallen.” (“In this our holy inner sanctum.”).

Scene 13

[Tamino and Papageno (without blindfolds) are lead by two priests into a hall. They are to stay put until they hear the sound of the trombone, which they should then follow. The second test—that of silence—is about to begin.]

Scene 14

[Papageno, running his mouth without pause, complains there’s nothing to drink.]

Scene 15

[An ugly old crone appears with a pitcher of water. This is all the ice-breaker needed for Papageno, who starts a lengthy flirtation with her. She’s about give her name when thunder interrupts and the crone disappears. Papageno has flunked the test of silence.]

Scene 16

No. 16. Trio (the Three Sprites)

The three sprites appear in a rose-covered craft (probably a hot-air balloon) and sing “Seid uns zum zweiten Mal willkommen.” (“Now once again we sing welcome.”). The priests collected the flute and glockenspiel when the candidates started the trials, and now Sarastro sends them back with food and drink. The sprites admonish Tamino to have courage and Papageno to keep his mouth shut.

Scene 17

[Papageno eats, drinks, and keeps on talking.]

Scene 18

  • [Pamina arrives and ties to talk to Tamino, who waves her away. Pamina turns to Papageno. His mouth is stuffed with bread and he can’t say a word. He too motions for Pamina to leave. Pamina is crushed.]

No. 18. Aria (Pamina)

  • Pamina sings her lament for lost love, “Ach, ich fühl’s, es ist verschwunden.” (“Oh, I know, I have lost his love.”).

Scene 19

[Papageno has swallowed some of his bread and can talk a little. Incorrigible opportunist and liar, he claims credit for not talking to Pamina, then finishes his bread by swilling down more wine. They hear the trombone call. But Papageno is too busy eating to be interested in another trial. Only the appearance of Sarastro’s six lions changes his mind, and he follows Tamino out.]

Scene 20

No. 18. Chorus

Tamino has passed the second trial—the test of silence. The priests exult, singing, “O Isis und Osiris, welche Wonne!”. (“Oh, Isis and Osiris, what a rapture.”).

Scene 21

No. 19. Trio (Pamina, Tamino, Sarastro)

[Sarastro praises Tamino for his valor and advises him there is but one trial remaining. He calls for Pamina, who is brought in blindfolded. Sarastro tells Pamina to say her last good by, but Tamino is still bound by his pledge of silence.]

Pamina, Tamino, and Sarastro sing ”Soll ich dich, Teurer, nicht mehr sehn.” (“Will, darling, I see you no more.”). Tamino’s continued aloofness leaves Pamina heartbroken.

Scene 22

[Tamino has left for his third trial and Papageno is wandering around lost.]

Scene 23

[A priest tells Papageno that he has flunked the second trial and will not be one of the Initiated. Papageno replies that there are more people in the world like him than like the priests. Papageno asks for and gets a glass of wine. He drinks the wine and then begins to feel a powerful longing.]

No. 20. Aria. (Papageno)

Papageno describes his pain in “Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen.” (“A sweetheart or a little wife.”).

Scene 24

[In response to his song, the crone reappears and offers herself to Papageno. Papageno accepts on the grounds that an old wife is better than none. Instantly the crone reveals herself as the beautiful, young Papagena! Papageno tries to embrace her.]

Scene 25

[But the priest instantly drags Papagena away, leaving our hapless hero alone again. Papageno despairs.]

Scene 26

No 21. Finale to Act II (has 7 scenes and takes up 52 pages in the Peters score)

The three sprites are back. They sing of their fears for Pamina, who appears to be losing her mind.

Scene 27

Pamina sings of suicide. The sprites intervene and convince Pamina that Tamino loves her after all. They offer to take her to him, and she agrees.

Scene 28

Tamino stands before two mountains: this is the site of the trial by fire and water. He is greeted by two men in armor. Tamino is eager. But then he hears Pamina’s call, “Tamino, stop! I must see you.” The warriors grant Tamino permission to speak to Pamina. Tamino wants Pamina to accompany him in the trial—a woman who is not afraid to die is worthy and will also be initiated. The lovers agree to stand trial together. Pamina reminds Tamino to play his flute, hewn by her father in a magic hour from the heart of a thousand-year-old oak. Protected by the flute, they pass unharmed first through fire and then through water. The triumphant lovers are greeted by the chorus, which invites them to enter the temple as members of the Band of the Initiated.

Scene 29

  • Meanwhile Papageno is in deep depression. Tamino has left him behind. Papagena has been snatched away twice before he could get even a single kiss. He calls for Papagena, but she is lost—because he talked too much. And the wine is making his heart explode with desire. He prepares to hang himself with his bird snare. But first he offers (directly to the audience) to take any girl in the world who will pity him—but no girl answers. Papageno is through.
  • He starts to hoist himself aloft, when the sprites arrive with one last suggestion: Papageno, try your bells! While Papageno frantically works the glockenspiel, the sprites slip Papagena in. Papageno and Papagena finally get together in the famous “Pa pa pa” duet.

Scene 30

  • The Queen of the Night and Monostatos have formed an alliance. Followed by an army of virgin ladies and slaves, they are on the march to kill Sarastro and destroy the Temple of the Initiated in a surprise night attack. All kneel before the Queen and sing a crepuscular pledge of allegiance.
  • As they rise to start the attack, the night is dispelled by a giant image of the sun. Sarastro, Tamino, and Pamina, in splendid priestly garb, stand over all. The power of the Queen is smashed. The opera ends with a hymn to beauty and enlightenment.
  • (Sarastro predicted earlier that Tamino would prevail and the Queen would returned, chastised, to her quarters. He also forgave Monostatos for assaulting Pamina. But will Sarastro also forgive the attempted night attack? Well, yes, I think. It wasn’t much of a fight; and after all, we do need the night. The Queen and the ever-scheming Monostatos will continue their dalliance—maybe Monostatos will become Pamina’s step-father.)