Explore the music of Mozart's Die Zauberflöte
The apparent simplicity and sweetness of this fairy tale conceals a great deal of musical sophistication. The opera’s familiar and traditional archetypes ask provocative and difficult questions about religion, the nature of power, familial bonds and duty, and of course love.
Die Zauberflöte is not, technically, an opera, but a singspiel – a ‘sung-play’, a well-established vernacular genre of music-theatre. It strings a series of sung arias, finales and ensembles together with spoken dialogue, a bit like a contemporary musical, doing away with recitative.
You can listen to some of the opera’s highlights below.
Tamino is a fairytale prince, and his music sounds exactly as you might imagine it to. His opening Act I aria ‘Dies Bildnis’, sung after he first sees a picture of Pamina, is an exquisitely lyrical, idealised love song. His poise and melodic elegance stands in contrast to the earthier Papageno, for whom bodily lust not elevated love, is the focus.
O Isis und Osiris
The tussle between Sarastro and the Queen of the Night over their daughter Pamina represents the conflict between superstition and rationality, the old mystical beliefs and the new humanist values of the Freemasons. ‘O Isis und Osiris’, Sarastro’s Act II aria, reflects these values in its measured musical control and beauty. Almost hymn-like, his music couldn’t be in greater contrast to the hysterical musical outbursts of the Queen of the Night. His low bass register is also an obvious counterpoint to her high soprano.
Der Hölle Rache
The Queen of the Night’s Act II aria ‘Der Hölle Rache’ is famous as a virtuoso showpiece, displaying the extreme upper register of the soprano’s voice, extending all the way up to the F above top C. The aria combines this extreme use of range with passages of frenzied coloratura – both give the impression of a woman barely in control, whose murderous rage has overpowered her reason, causing her to lash out musically at her daughter in this extraordinary firework-display of an aria.
Ach, ich fühl's
Pamina’s music shares its sweetness and innocence with Tamino’s, but in her Act II aria ‘Ach, ich fühl’s’ she develops into a more fully-rounded character, expressing fears as well as hopes. New maturity of emotion manifests itself in newly chromatic music which struggles to settle into its harmonic groove, betraying the disquiet Pamina feels, believing that Tamino no longer loves her. There’s also the faintest memory of the Queen of the Night’s music here; Pamina is, after all, her mother’s daughter.
If Tamino and Pamina represent idealised, transcendent love, then Papageno and his Papagena represent an earthier, more bodily attraction. Their playful Act II duet ‘Pa-Pa-Pa’ catches their energetic, passionate affection in its chattering, bird-like counterpoint, and the close mirroring between the two vocal parts (finishing and echoing each other’s musical sentences) reflects just how well suited these two lovers are: two halves of a single musical whole.