Opera Australia Blog

Cheat Sheet: The Magic Flute

Opera Australia's The Magic Flute. Photo by Branco Gaica

Opera Australia’s The Magic Flute. Photo by Branco Gaica

Everything you need to know about Mozart’s popular fantasy, The Magic Flute.

Who was the composer?

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 Act I aria, which practically requires vocal acrobatics.

What’s the story?

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?


Photos by Branco Gaica.

Photos by Branco Gaica.

Want more? A guide to the characters in the opera can be found here.

What’s the big hit?

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 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.

What’s new in this production?

Opera Australia's The Magic Flute. Photo by Branco Gaica.

Opera Australia’s The Magic Flute. Photo by Branco Gaica.

Julie Taymor created and directed this production for the Metropolitan Opera of New York in 2005.

It is 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.

Opera Australia mounted the production for the first time in 2012, building the props and scenery in-house.

A little history

The original playbill of Die Zauberflöte, which premieredi n 1791.

The original playbill of Die Zauberflöte,
which premiered in 1791.

The Magic Flute was commissioned by Mozart’s friend and fellow Freemason, Emanuel Schikaneder, who owned a playhouse in Vienna. Schikaneder wrote the libretto and played Papageno. Mozart’s sister-in-law, Josepha Hofer, played the Queen of the Night.

The opera advocates many of the ideals of masonry: a belief in reason and wisdom, trials and enlightenment, and the power of music.

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!

Conversation starters

  • 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-yr-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 just 35 years, starting at the age of 5.

Want more?

We re-wrote The Magic Flute as a bedtime story for children. You can read it here.

We also prepared a short listening guide, which you can watch below:

For more info and tickets, click here.

3 Responses to “Cheat Sheet: The Magic Flute”

  1. Judy McLaren

    Great work Opera Australia in this and other links you have provided. This is the first taste of opera for our granddaughters aged 10 and 8 so I am looking forward to taking them through these links and gauging their reaction to the production on Saturday.
    I seem to have struck a glitch with the link from your email to the “the story told as a child’s bedtime story” is there a problem here?
    Thank you Opera Australia.
    Judy McLaren

    • Jennifer Williams

      Hi Judy!
      Thanks for your feedback, and good spotting on the broken link. I’ve updated it now, or you can access the bedtime story here. Let me know if you have any more trouble!

  2. Judy McLaren

    Hi Jennifer,
    Both children (aged 8 and 10) pronounced it “fantastic!” My friends 13 and 15 year olds also enjoyed it, as did we “grownups”! I was able to download the bedtime story to my tab via Adobe and so I could make good use of it. Thank youfor so much helpful information!
    Kind regards,
    Judy McLaren


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