THE overture, one of the most perfect and famous of all overtures with regard to form, melody, and instrumentation, begins Adagio, with’ three chords for full orchestra and a short theme given to the bassoon and strings. On the sixteenth bar the brilliant, insistent theme of the fugue is announced by the second violin, and is then taken up by the first violin, followed eight bars later by the viola, the ‘cello, and bassoon. Later the double bass, ‘cello and bassoon take it up, and finally every voice in the orchestra sings it. The bassoons and clarinets divide and play this theme in thirds. There is a return to the opening Adagio for six bars, and again the theme of the fugue is heard, this time on the first violins, accompanied by the second violin and viola; then the first violin and ‘cello take it up and are presently joined by the double bass (the latter in unison with the bassoons). Towards the last, the oboe and the bassoon divide, playing in thirds. The overture closes in a blaze of brilliancy. One great effect is produced by dynamics.
This fugue is one of the most wonderful in all the literature of music. It has no touch of pedantry, yet it unites the excellencies of all styles, Bach, Haydn, Palestrina, and Gluck; and it is so charged with vitality that it appeals to all intelligences. The musician finds here a source of perpetual wonder ; the uninitiated a source of perpetual delight, for while he may not understand the scientific and mathematical rules that the principal theme obeys, he can feel that it is a perfect Kobold. It is present everywhere, running about from instrument to instrument, sometimes appearing as a solo, sometimes forming a delicate accompaniment to a solo, sometimes as an energetic tutti, sometimes ornamenting a simple held note, sometimes as a melodic figure to disguise a modulation or to form part of a cadence; now echoed backwards and forwards between bass and treble, and now repeated in the same part for bars together, but each time bringing some change in the harmony, and at last, when it has nothing more to do, it winds up the whole in a great finale. The two counter-subjects are made to do duty in a similar way, forming solos, accompaniments, modulations, and transition passages. Yet in all these repetitions no two passages could be discovered that are perfectly identical.
From the three mysterious chords of the trombones, associated with Sarastro, and the rhythm and figure of the fugue which will be repeated slightly changed in the Queen of Night’s second aria, we may consider the contest between good and evil, light and darkness to begin in the overture.
AcT I. The curtain rises on a rocky, hilly region with trees, and a round temple. Tamino (tenor) in a fine hunting costume and carrying a bow but no arrow, enters, pursued by a serpent. The orchestra continues in the same rhythm and key as the overture, while the first violins play an excited theme which Tamino repeats as he cries for help, Zu Hulfe ! zu Hülfe ! and swoons. The Temple door opens and three veiled Ladies (soprani) dressed in black, appear, stab the snake in three pieces with their three silver javelins, sing a trio of victory, Triumph ! in which the third soprano, or contralto, takes particular importance, assuming a fundamental part, sometimes even with the suppression of the orchestral bass and other instruments that usually double the contralto. This gives a faerie quality at once to the music ; and we feel ourselves not in Egypt, as the libretto informs us, but in some remote fantastic realm.
The Three Ladies quarrel over the youth : each wants to stay and watch over him while the others go to inform the Queen of Night that he has arrived. Finally, all agree to go and, bidding farewell to the unconscious Tamino, they enter the Temple, the door of which opens mysteriously for them.
Tamino, reviving, sees that the snake has been killed. He hears a pipe, and, as a man is approaching, he hides behind a tree. Papageno (baritone) enters, dressed in feathers, with a bird-cage containing birds on his back and a syrinx in his hand. He sings a song of his merry life as a bird-catcher, piping at every vocal pause, Der Vogeljanger bin ich ja, the style of which will be characteristic of him throughout the opera.
Tamino, appearing, asks if he killed the snake and he answers in the affirmative. In reply to Tamino’s questions, Papageno says that he does not know his parentage or home, and that he catches birds for the Queen of Night. The Three Ladies, whose faces he has never seen, give him every day in payment wine, ” sugar-bread,” and figs. In return Tamino informs him he is the son of a prince and that he has heard of the Queen of Night. At this moment the Three Ladies call menacingly to Papageno, and, entering, one gives him water, the second a stone, and the third places a padlock on his lips as punishment for his falsehood about the serpent. To Tamino, the latter presents a portrait of the Queen of Night’s daughter, Pamina. They then leave with mock adieux to Papageno.
Looking at the picture, Tamino sings one of the most admirable of all tenor arias, Dies Bildniss ist bezaubernd schon. The music passes from doubt and hesitation to certainty (bars 33-42), the words, ” If the original were here, what should I do ? ” are answered in flowing waves of rich melody. He is about to leave, when the Three Ladies return to say the Queen of Night wishes him to rescue Pamina, who has been stolen from her by Sarastro. As Tamino swears to save her, thunder is heard. The Three Ladies announce their mistress.
The hills burst asunder, revealing a splendid throne where Astrifiammente, Queen of Night, is seated upon her starry throne. Her superb recitative, O zitt’re nicht, mein Lieber Sohn, is addressed to the trembling Tamino, and in the magnificent aria, Zum Leiden bin ich auserkoren, with its majestic accompaniment, ending with brilliant, florid passages that sparkle and flicker almost like the bright, cold stars, she promises Tamino rewards if he will rescue Pamina, and disappears with her Three Ladies.
The scene changes back. Tamino will go at once, but Papageno stops him, humming a melody, which becomes a quintette, Hm, hm, hm, at the return of the Three Ladies, and presently one removes the padlock from his lips. The first Lady gives Tamino a magic flute from the Queen of Night, to protect him from danger ; and to Papageno, who must accompany Tamino, they give a magic Glockenspiel (chime of bells). They also inform the travellers that ” three winged youths ” will show them the way to the monster’s castle, and bidding them farewell, depart. This quintette, beginning humorously, ends with an Andante full of magic and distinction. The breath of invisible regions is wafted to us by means of the wierd bassoons and clarinets following each other in mysterious thirds. The ritournelle shows us in advance the aerial guides who are to conduct Tamino and Papageno to the land of mysteries.
The scene changes to a magnificent Egyptian room ; two Slaves draw a sofa near a Turkish table ; the third Slave enters and they discuss Sarastro, Pamina, and Monostatos, to whom Sarastro has given Pamina in charge, until Monostatos calls them. They then go out. Monostatos, the Moor (tenor), and Pamina (soprano), led in by Slaves, enter. A trio, Du feines Taübchen nur herein, follows, in which Pamina sings of her sorrow and Monostatos bids the slaves fetter her and leave. They are joined by Papageno, first seen outside the window, when his characteristic melody of Der Vogelfanger is heard in the orchestra, slightly changed. He enters, and he and Monostatos frighten each other and run away in opposite directions. Pamina calls for her mother ; and Papageno rushes in, saying he knows the Queen of Night and shows Pamina her portrait, telling her that Tamino loves her. Will she go to him ? She consents, and they sing a duo full of naiveté and familiarity, a German lied, Bei Mannern welche Liebe fublen.
The scene changes to a grove. A Temple in the fore-ground bears the legend ” Temple of Wisdom ” ; one on the right, “Temple of Reason “; and one on the left, ” Temple of Nature.” Three Boys or Genii (tenor and bass) carrying silver palm-branches, lead in Tamino. The finale, which begins here, is really a series of tableaux, each in its separate frame, anti-dramatic and anti-lyric to the last point ; but even this did not baffle Mozart.
The Genii show Tamino the path, Zum ziele führt dich diese Bahn, but will not tell him if it will lead to Pamina. The music here, notwithstanding Tamino’s anxiety, is calm and placid, and the prolonged G of the flutes and clarinets and the high trombones tell us that we are now in the realms of the mysterious. In search of Pamina, Tamino tries the doors of the temples on the right and left. At each, a voice calls, Zurück ! He knocks at the “Temple of Wisdom ” and a Priest appears, asking what he desires. ” Love and Virtue,” he says, and he would rescue Pamina from the tyrant, Sarastro. The Priest gives him to understand that Pamina is in Sarastro’s power; oath and duty prevent him from telling more, but soon Tamino will be led to the sanctuary. He disappears. Tamino wonders if he shall ever find her. The voices of the Genii reply, “Soon or never”; he then asks if Pamina is alive, and in beautiful chords repeating her name they answer, ” Pamina lives.”
Tamino plays upon his flute, whereupon birds and animals flock to him, and then he sings in praise of his flute, using the melody of his ritournelle. He then calls Pamina, and to his surprise it is Papageno who answers (within) on his syrinx. “Perhaps,” he says, “Papageno has seen Pamina; perhaps these notes of the magic flute will lead me to her,” and his voice joins Papageno’s in an ensemble. As Tamino leaves, Papageno enters with Pamina. They speak of the advantages of possessing a good pair of legs, Schnelle Fusse, and and now he calls for Tamino on his syrinx, and it is Tamino’s turn to answer (within), on his flute.
But Monostatos is pursuing the fugitives. He enters, Nur geschwinde, nur geschwinde, and orders his slaves to bind the terrified Pamina. Papageno happily thinks of his talisman. He plays on his silvery bells, and the bewitched Monostatos and his blacks forget about Pamina and dance to Papageno’s merry tune, singing an accompaniment in chorus, Das Klinget so herrlich. Pamina and Papageno sing in praise of the Glockenspiel.
Trombones sound within and voices are heard, Es lebe Sarastro, honouring Sarastro, the High Priest (bass), who enters in a splendid car drawn by lions. He descends ; Pamina falls before him, explaining that she fled from Monostatos. Sarastro raises her and grants forgiveness, but he will not give her freedom. She will not be happy if she returns to her mother, ” for a woman must be guided by a man’s wisdom.”
Mozart has written, in his opera of The Magic Flute, an important part for a keyed instrument that he calls Glockenspiel composed doubtless of a great number of very small bells, arranged in such a manner as to be put in vibration by a mechanism of keys… . When they got up, at the Paris Opera, the imperfect Pasticcio known under the name of The Mysteries of Isis, in which was introduced more or less disfigured a portion of the music in The Magic Flute, they procured for the Glockenspiel piece, a little instrument, the hammers of which instead of striking on bells, struck upon bars of steel. The sound is produced an octave above the written notes ; it is sweet, mysterions, and of extreme delicacy. It adapts itself to the most rapid movements, and is incomparably better than little bells.” Berlioz, A Treatise on Modern Instrumentation (London, 1882).
Monostatos brings Tamino forward, singing Nun stolzer Fungling nur herein, to which the orchestra plays a fugue, telling Sarastro that Tamino has robbed him of Pamina. In the meantime Tamino and Pamina have rushed into each other’s arms. Sarastro will reward Monostatos for his information ; the latter is obsequious. The reward is the bastinado, and Monostatos is borne away.
Sarastro orders the lovers to the ” Temple of Probation,” for they must be purified. Two priests ceremoniously cover their heads with veils, and the canon, Wenn Tugend und Gerechtigkeit, closes the Act.
AcT II.A palm-forest, where the trees are silver and the leaves gold. On one of the eighteen seats is a pyramid and a great, black horn fastened with gold. A large pyramid and tree in the centre. Sarastro and his priests, bearing palm-branches, enter with proud steps.
This march Mozart borrowed from his Idomeneo, but improved upon the model in beauty of design, richness of instrumentation, and majesty of its highly sacerdotal character. Sarastro tells the Speaker and priests that they, the servants of the gods Osiris and Isis, are to guard Tamino, who is waiting at the northern door of the temple, desirous of ” tearing off the veil of darkness and gazing upon the sanctuary of light.” Sarastro counts upon Tamino and Pamina to restore the Temple. Horns are blown with ceremony and the Speaker and some of the priests go to fetch Tamino and Papageno. Sarastro then sings his noble aria with chorus, O Isis and Osiris. An invocation follows, as in Idomeneo, and just as the invocation to Neptune in that opera recalls the images of pagan cult, and just as its orchestration was highly ornamented, the prayer to the Egyptian gods approaches the chorale in its simplicity ; its harmonies towards the middle and towards the end of the chant give it a pronounced flavour of church music. The accompaniment, evenly laid on the melodic design in broad, sustained chords, is of grandiose effect. There are neither violins nor flutes, but two violas, a ‘cello, two bassoons, two basset-horns, and trombones, producing a grave and powerful harmony, from the midst of which the High Priest’s voice mounts towards heaven like a vast column of incense.
The scene changes to the small courtyard of a Temple, with fallen columns and pyramids, and a single thorn-bush. It is night, and the rolling thunder alarms Tamino and Papageno, who remove their veils while conversing in terror. The Speaker and priests enter with torches. The Speaker asks Tamino questions regarding his desire for initiation into the Masonic mysteries, and says that he shall see Pamina, but he must promise not to speak to her. One of the priests promises Papageno (who has no ambitions) a young and beautiful wife. Her name shall be Papagena. The two priests sing a duet, Bewahret euch vor Weibertücken, and leave.
The Three Ladies now enter to try and persuade Tamino and Papageno to follow the Queen of Night instead of Sarastro. (Quintette : Wie Ihr an deisem Schreckensort.)
The voices of the priests are heard (within), and there-fore there is a contest between the followers of Sarastro and the Queen of Night for Tamino. The former are victorious, and the Three Ladies wail and disappear amidst thunder and lightning. The chords announcing the priests are heard, and they return to claim their charges and give them their veils.
The scene changes to a garden ; trees are set in the form of a horse-shoe ; an arbour of roses and other flowers, in which Pamina is sleeping in the moonlight ; a grassy bank near the foreground. Monostatos enters, sits down, and soliloquizes about love and Pamina, Ales jühlt der Liebe Freuden, which must be ” played and sung as softly as if it came from a distance.” Here the piccolo plays in unison with the first violin. He then steals to Pamina, but the Queen of Night suddenly rises from beneath the earth, amidst thunder, to protect her daughter, who awakes.
Monostatos hides from the Queen, who gives Pamina a dagger, bidding her kill Sarastro and win back the golden symbol which belonged to her husband and which at his death he left to Sarastro. Only by this means shall Tamino be hers. Pamina is horror-stricken. The Queen says it is her last command and sings of her vengeance in a superb aria, Der Hôlle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen, one of the most difficult airs ever written, with brilliant staccato passages intended to display virtuosity, requiring a singer like Mozart’s sister-in-law, Aloysia Weber, Patti, Nilsson, or Sembrich to render it adequately. Much of this song is in the same rhythm as the fugue in the overture, and in it we find the same use of dynamics. After singing this air, the Queen sinks into the ground.
Pamina. is terrified at the thought of murder. Monostatos, coming forward, says he has heard all, and bids her give him the dagger. She hands it to him, whereupon he commands her to love him, or die. Sarastro enters ; but he takes no notice of Monostatos’s recital of Pamina’s intended murder of him. He tells Pamina that she shall have Tamino if he passes victoriously through his trials. His noble cavatina, In diesen heil’gen Hallen, (” In these holy halls revenge is unknown,”) offers a contrast to the Queen of Night’s cry for vengeance. Mozart has used very simple means in this song of but twenty-four bars, kept strictly within its tonality, without any modulation, with orchestral figures of sober selection, a trait of imitation in contrary motion, and the repetition of a vocal period by the flute, while the voice sinks into the deep notes which had previously served as a bass for this same period. No bad singer can altogether spoil this indestructible composition.
The scene changes to a hall where the wings are wound with flowers, into which a door opens ; two benches are in the foreground. Tamino and Papageno enter, unveiled, and two priests. They must leave when they hear the trumpet, say the priests, who then go.
Papageno now receives a visit from an old woman who brings him water to drink. ” The name of her lover is Papageno,” she says, whereupon Papageno insults her, by spitting the water in her face, and she leaves. The Three Genii enter through the wings, between which stands a beautifully-set table. They bring the magic flute and the Glockenspiel, and sing a trio, Seid uns zum zweiten Mal willkommen, the fantastic accompaniment to which must be noticed especially, for between the vocal pauses we can hear their wings beating in the orchestra in little fluttering figures, flashing like butterflies and scintillating like humming-birds in the flutes, bassoons, and strings. They invite Tamino and Papageno to eat and drink, and then they disappear.
Papageno avails himself of this invitation, but Tamino plays upon his flute. Pamina enters ; but, true to his instructions, Tamino will not speak to her. Pamina does not understand, Papageno’s mouth is too full for him to explain, and the unhappy Pamina, believing Tamino loves her no longer, sings her pathetic cavatina, Ach ich fuhl’s es ist verschwunden. The instrumental melody seems an echo of the voice, and towards the end the perfect cadence is avoided by the composer’s making the fundamental bass mount by a fifth instead of a fourth. Thus the modulation is suspended and brought back to the tonic, where the song expires in tears, while the chromatic bass flows with elegance beneath the sobbing syncopes of the flute and violin.
As Pamina goes, three trumpets are heard. Tamino cannot persuade Papageno to go, “Not even,” says the latter, ” if Sarastro’s six lions should come for me.” No sooner is this said, than the beasts enter; but Tamino’s flute drives them away. Then Papageno and Tamino leave.
The scene changes to the vault of the pyramids. Sarastro and priests enter, carrying an illuminated pyramid and lanterns, singing, O Isis and Osiris. The new life promised to Tamino, who is found worthy, makes itself felt in the music, in the serenity and mystic quietude, in the celestial euphony and radiant grandeur. The rigid harmony, how-over, seems to keep within the precincts of the Temple. This chorus is in three parts, the trumpets and trombones sound in unison with the vocal parts ; one orchestral phrase only is found towards the end, a phrase of four notes, and most striking !
Sarastro questions Tamino regarding his initiation; only two trials remain. He then sends for Pamina, who enters, veiled, and tells the lovers they must part. In this trio, Sall ich dich, Theuer, nicht mehr sehn ? the sorrow of a last adieu is felt, and towards the close the composer has enlaced soprano and tenor in masterly counterpoint. Sarastro sings : ” We shall meet again.” They leave.
Papageno now enters, calling Tamino. The Speaker promises to grant any wish, and Papageno wishes for wine. A mysterious cup appears, from which he drinks, and then he sings his wish for a wife, Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen wünscht Papageno sich, to which he plays pretty variations upon his Glockenspiel. The Old Woman re-appears. He is disgusted, but promises to be a good husband. Suddenly she is transformed to a young woman, also in a feather costume : it is Papagena. Just as he is about to embrace her; the Speaker sends her away, for Papageno is unworthy of her.
The scene changes to a garden. The Three Genii enter to sing of the lovely morning, Bald prangt, den Morgen zu verkunden. The unhappy Pamina enters and tries to stab herself; but the Genii remind her of Tamino’s love, and promise to lead her to him.
The scene changes. We now see two large mountains : from one is heard the rushing of water ; from the other is seen the glow of fire. Two mysterious men in black armour, whose helmets, with closed vizors, glow with fire, and who hold glittering swords, bring in Tamino, who must now pass through his final trial. They read what is written upon a pyramid near the grating : ” Who pursues this path of danger becometh pure by fire, water, earth, and air; who can overcome the terrors of death and rise to heaven out of earth will then be purified and able to devote himself to the Mysteries of Isis.”
Mozart gave an allegorical interpretation to these words. Although the opera was intended to end happily, he, as he had done in Don Giovanni, with the Spectre of the Commandante, introduced here two mysterious figures from another world. With Sarastro, the Queen of Night, the winged Genii, and Papageno, one would think the limits of the fantastic had been reached ; but there was no limit to Mozart ; for, to the merely fantastic, he now adds solemnity.
The music that they sing to Tamino is a chorale, _itch Gott von Himmel sich darein (ascribed to Luther and which appeared in 1524), to which Mozart added a closing phrase. The chorale is sung in octaves by the two mysterious men (tenor and bass), accompanied by flutes, oboes, bassoons, and roaring trombones, while the strings have an independent contrapuntal figure. This produces a sad and impressive psalmody.
Pamina, having obtained permission to share her lover’s peril, enters, and rushing into Tamino’s arms, promises to be his companion. The magic flute and her love will protect them, she says, and then a beautiful quartette is sung, in which the mysterious men join, the theme of which is : ” Who knows how to die shall conquer here.”
Then these mysterious men shut the lovers in behind the grating. Tamino and Pamina are seen to pass through the fire and the water, and now for the first time the flute lifts itself above the whole orchestra in graceful phrases of magic melody. Suddenly the mountain divides, and Tamino and Pamina are seen in a temple, giving thanks for their safety, while priests sing triumph (within).
The scene changes to a garden. Papageno, playing on his pipe, calls Papagena. She will not come, and he is about to hang himself, when the three Genii enter and suggest the Glockenspiel. He tries his magic bells, and Papagena enters. They leave in joy, after singing their duet, Papa pageno.
The Queen of Night, Monostatos, and the Three Ladies enter, with black torches. The Queen is desperate ; she has promised Pamina to the Moor, and the five incendiaries intend to enter Sarastro’s temple and to commit whole-sale murder. On their way they stop to sing, Nur stille, a quintette.
With a crash of thunder, the scene changes to the Temple of the Sun. Sarastro is on his throne, with Tamino and Pamina in sacerdotal costumes beside him ; the priests are ranged on both sides ; and the Three Genii hold flowers. The Queen of Night and her companions sink into the earth, and Sarastro and his priests sing Heil sei euch Geweihten, the triumphant rule of light and truth, of good over evil.