Teacher Resources for The Magic Flute

Welcome to Lyric Unlimited’s Teachers Resources for The Magic Flute. This is your all-access pass to the world of opera and your insider’s guide to Lyric’s incredible performances.

These resources were developed to help you prepare students for the performance they are about to attend. We recommend sharing this content with your students in small blocks of time over several days or weeks before your trip to Lyric. Scroll down to access the following:

Explore Opera!
Enhance student learning with an in-school presentation by a professional Lyric teaching artist. Our Opera experts will engage your class in activities that address the important themes, musical highlights, and production elements of the opera. $175 per presentation.

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It is our sincere hope you enjoy the performance, and we look forward to seeing you and your students at the opera!

Student Backstage Pass!

Performances for Students - Lyric Opera of Chicago

Backstage Pass! The Magic Flute

This version of the Backstage Pass! provides you and your students information and insight into The Magic Flute, and the production you will see at Lyric Opera of Chicago.
Performances for Students - Lyric Opera of Chicago

Backstage Pass! 
Teacher Edition
Backstage Pass! is the official teacher guide for all Lyric Opera of Chicago student performances. This teacher guide covers everything you need to know about your visit to Lyric.

Musical Highlights

In any great opera, the music tells the story as much as the action onstage, reflecting the personalities of the characters, their emotions, and the situations they’re in. The Magic Flute also has musical variety to rival or surpass any full-fledged opera, ranging from folk and popular styles of Mozart’s day to music he could have written for the royal court.

Strictly speaking, The Magic Flute isn’t an opera. Rather, it is an example of a “sung-play” (Singspiel in German) and is similar to the modern Broadway musical. Unlike opera of the day, which was usually in Italian, Singspiele were in the audience’s native language (German), and the dialogue was spoken rather than sung—they were plays with musical numbers.

Despite Mozart’s fame, genius, and ease in the world of the elite, he had a huge sense of humor and loved a good time. It’s clear that he had a lot of fun composing The Magic Flute and he wanted the audience to have fun with it, too.

Performed by the orchestra.

The Magic Flute begins with an orchestral overture. The idea of an overture is to musically hint at what’s coming and reveal key aspects of the story. In a subtle way, Mozart is trying to tell us that the story will involve two very different ways of thinking and being. It begins with a short sequence of heavy chords, the mood becomes dark, and the music seems to wander without a clear direction.

After a time, the style abruptly changes to an orderly and academic musical form: a fugue (pronounced fyoog). As you’ll hear, a fugue is built on a melody that is repeated and passed around the orchestra in overlapping and interweaving layers, creating a complex but structured effect.

Mozart may have chosen the styles of these two contrasting sections—the formless opening and the fugue that follows—to represent the two contrasting realms depicted in the opera: the Queen of the Night’s unenlightened realm versus Sarastro’s realm of light and wisdom.

“Der Vogelfänger bin ich ya” (Papageno’s theme song)
Sung by Papageno as he makes his first entrance.
English Translation

Papageno’s first appearance is handled in a typically operatic way: with an aria in which he tells us who he is and what he’s about.

His words tell us:
     • His occupation: catching birds for trade
     • He’s famous for catching birds
     • He’s happy (with one exception)
     • He wants to get married, but he has no idea how to make that happen

Papageno’s music also tells us a lot about him: the melody is folksy, simple, and cheerful.

Listen to the shape and structure of the tune:
     • Easy scale patterns
     • Series of repetitive phrases, all of the same length
     • Range is relatively narrow—it never goes very high or very low.

Papageno punctuates his aria with a five-note scale. It’s a birdcall he plays on an ancient folk instrument, the panpipes. Besides helping attract birds, that call is his musical trademark for the rest of the opera.

“Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schon” (Tamino’s picture aria)
Sung by Tamino shortly after he first meets Papageno.
English Translation

Prince Tamino is a very different kind of person with very different aspirations. He’s a:
     • Heavy thinker
     • Seeker of truth
     • Future leader

Rather than Papageno’s folky style, Mozart goes full-blown operatic for Tamino, giving the young prince music fit for royalty.

Tamino’s big hit aria is early in Act One, when he first looks at the picture of Pamina. The tempo is stately and dignified, and the melody covers a wide range and has many leaps. Note, Mozart had the orchestra playing the melody along with Papageno, Tamino sings his melody with minimal accompaniment. This showcases the beauty and refinement of his voice.

“O Isis und Osiris” (Sarastro’s prayer)
Sung by Sarastro and his priests during their gathering at the beginning of Act Two.
English Translation

It’s pretty typical in opera for the hero to be a tenor, like Tamino. Roles for basses aren’t always as glamorous, but it’s fairly common for them to be mature authority figures. Sarastro is a classic example.

Act Two begins with a solemn gathering of Sarastro and his priests. During this meeting, Sarastro leads a prayer to the central deities of their faith: Isis and Osiris—gods the librettist Emanuel Schikaneder borrowed from ancient Egyptian mythology. Even though it’s not a regular church service, Mozart created music for it that has a distinctly “church-like” feel.

“Der Hölle Rache” (The Queen of the Night’s famous rage aria)
Sung by the Queen of the Night when she orders Pamina to murder Sarastro.
English Translation

If psychosis counts as a personality trait, then the character with the biggest personality in The Magic Flute is the Queen of the Night. She has two major arias, and the second one is her claim to fame. In fact, it’s one of the most famous soprano arias in all of opera. She’s demanding that her daughter, Pamina, murder Sarastro.

In Mozart’s day, extreme emotional states (joy, rage, grief, etc.) were often expressed in opera through coloratura. Essentially, coloratura is a fast string of notes sung on a single syllable of text or no text at all. This type of singing, like the Queen of the Night, takes acrobatic vocal technique that only certain singers, coloratura sopranos, can master.

The Queen may be the most challenging coloratura role ever written. Only a few singers in the world have the vocal agility and accuracy—and high notes—combined with the emotional intensity needed to fully express the Queen’s rage.

“Ach, ich fühl’s” (Pamina’s lament)
Sung by Pamina after Tamino seems to have rejected her.
English Translation

Along with the pressures of having a mother like the Queen, Pamina is also in deeply in love. Through most of the opera it seems that she’s destined for nothing but heartbreak and sadness.

The last straw for Pamina comes when she’s reunited with Tamino only to have him refuse to speak to her. In response to this seeming rejection, she sings one of the most beautiful and touching arias of the opera.

Mozart makes her royal status clear in the music, just as he did for Prince Tamino. Notice the similarity in musical style to Tamino’s picture aria in Act One:
     • Minimal accompaniment so the voice shines
     • Melodic line that’s fully operatic:
          o Many leaps
          o Wide range from high to low notes

But more than anything, this aria is both very sad and beautiful.

“Heil sei euch Geweihten!”
Sarastro and his followers end the opera with a chorus that is at first solemn, then joyous.
English Translation

Tamino and Pamina have succeeded and are united at last, and Papageno has finally found a wife. The ending of The Magic Flute is certainly happy, but something more serious has happened as well: Sarastro’s realm of light and wisdom has won out over the Queen of the Night’s darkness and evil. So, the opera ends with a powerful and dignified chorus.

But does Mozart end it on this serious note? No way. Remember, he loved a good time. At the very end, he lightens the mood and finishes the story with a lively tune that sounds like a rustic dance.

Musical examples are from the EMI Classics recording featuring Peter Schreier as Tamino, Anneliese Rothenberger as Pamina, Edda Moser as the Queen of the Night, Kurt Moll as Sarastro, Walter Berry as Papageno, and the choir and orchestra of the Bayerischen Staatsoper München conducted by Wolfgang Sawallisch.

These recorded excerpts are used courtesy of Warner Classics, the Official Education and Promotion Music Provider of Lyric Opera.
Commentary by Jesse Gram

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Composer and Librettist Biographies

Performances for Students - Lyric Opera of Chicago

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, composerb. Salzburg, January 27, 1756; d. Vienna, December 5, 1791

The brief but brilliant life of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart has long fascinated historians and musicologists alike. He was a genius, to be sure, but was he a rebellious and dissolute genius or a fiercely independent, ahead-of-his-time genius?

Mozart was born in Austria in 1751 to a musical family. His father Leopold was deputy Kapellmeister (music master) to the court orchestra of the Archbishop of Salzburg as well as a composer and teacher. By the time he was four, Mozart already displayed prodigious musical talent, showing such interest in his sister Nannerl’s harpsichord lessons that his father decided to instruct him as well. Not only did Mozart quickly outstrip his nine-year-old sister, he began composing short pieces. At five he wrote his first minuet. At six he toured the European capitals performing for kings and queens. At eight he wrote his first symphony and at ten his first opera.

As time passed, Mozart became less of a pliable child willing to fulfill his father’s dreams and more of a headstrong young man seeking to make his own way in the world. Musicians in Mozart’s day relied on patronage, performing on command and composing in response to specific commissions. Chafing under the authority of his patron, the Archbishop of Salzburg, Mozart opted for a life unusual for an artist of his time: he left his post to begin composing, teaching, and performing independently. He moved to Vienna and married Constanze Weber—according to some, against his father’s wishes. Mozart was free from the daily obligations of court appointments, but earning a sufficient living was a challenge. He and his wife had six children, only two of whom survived into adulthood. It was in Vienna that Mozart collaborated on The Magic Flute with his friend, librettist Emanuel Schikaneder. It premiered in September 1791 at the Theater auf der Wieden. Mozart died only a few months later.

Although Emperor Joseph II is said to have complained that Mozart used “too many notes,” his music has mesmerized audiences from 18th century Vienna to Chicago in the 21st century. In his brief 35 years he wrote more than 600 works, among them 41 symphonies, 23 string quartets, and 22 operas including The Magic Flute – one of the most popular of all time.

Renegade, rake, visionary, or all of the above – you can draw your own conclusions about Mozart the man. But the legacy of his music belongs to us all. Fellow genius Albert Einstein said that Mozart’s music "was so pure that it seemed to have been ever-present in the universe, waiting to be discovered by the master." And discovered again, generation after generation.

by Maia Morgan  

Performances for Students - Lyric Opera of Chicago

Emanuel Schikaneder, librettistb. Straubing, September 1, 1751; d. Vienna, September 21, 1812

At his peak, Emanuel Schikaneder was a genuine king of the theater in Vienna, writing, acting, directing, producing, even composing—no small achievement for a man who began life with nothing. He was born in a small town in Lower Bavaria, the son of a lackey and a serving maid. At the Jesuit Gymnasium in Regensburg he picked up a bit of Latin, some music training, and experience in church performances before taking off as a wandering minstrel. Joining a traveling troupe as an actor, he was soon writing, staging, and composing music for plays. His first play, The Minstrels, based on his own experiences, was a great success and enjoyed a long life.

His friendship with Mozart began in September 1780 when he came to Salzburg, now with his own company, for a six-month run. Mozart was 24, restless in the service of the Archbishop, and Schikaneder, four years older, must have injected a welcome spark into the local scene. That he was a frequent visitor in the Mozart home says much, for father Leopold would never have tolerated a fool. Over the next several years Schikaneder was often away touring, but the two men still managed to fraternize intermittently.

In 1789 Schikaneder settled in Vienna on a more permanent basis to take over, at the invitation of his estranged wife, the new Theater auf der Wieden after her partner, the theater’s director, suddenly died. The reunion, of practical benefit to both, gave Schikaneder a stable base at last. He plunged in, presenting operas, comedies, and tragedies as well as occasional spectaculars, concerts, and ballets. The range was wide, from melodramas to Schiller and Goethe, from popular Singspiels, including some of his own, to works by Gluck, Haydn, and Mozart.

On September 30, 1791, Schikaneder entered history with the premiere of The Magic Flute. Playing the role of Papageno himself, Schikaneder scored great success in the singspiel that was destined to be the most frequently played German opera in Germany well into modern times. Mozart died only months after The Magic Flute premiered, but Schikaneder went on to become one of the primary theatrical entrepreneurs of his day—indeed, a precursor to the modern theatrical impresario. Without consistent financial backing, he continually struggled to balance art and economics; and ever controversial, he was accused of overindulging his flair for the spectacular by mounting outdoor productions and emphasizing special theatrical effects. Still, he eventually gained enough wealth and prestige to build his own theater in 1801, the Theater an der Wien, which exists to this very day. The end of his life was more tragic, however, beset as he was by dementia and plagued by the pennilessness that characterized the start of his career.

by Joanne Sheehy Hoover

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Behind the Scenes

A series of articles on the production, rehearsal, and performance process that happens behind the scenes at Lyric.

Sets and Props

Tech Week

The Rehearsal Process

Costumes at Lyric

Running the Show
History of the Lyric Opera House

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