The Prince Tamino rushes onto the stage, pursued by a fearsome serpent. Exhausted and terrified, he collapses just as three mysterious ladies appear and bring down the beast by use of magic. They emerge from behind the mountain, and examine the unconscious Tamino. They then spirit away to tell their queen of his arrival.
Tamino awakens, and hears someone approaching. It is Papageno, a humble birdcatcher. He sings of his ease in catching birds, adding that he unfortunately cannot capture women in the same way. Tamino introduces himself, and the two become fast friends.
The ladies arrive again, and tell Tamino that their queen has tasked him with a special quest. Her daughter Pamina has been stolen by a man named Sarastro, and Tamino may be the solution she has been waiting for. The queen herself arrives and completes the story, adding that Tamino can wed Pamina if he is successful in recovering her. Left with a portrait of the Princess, Tamino pines over her beautiful features, and sets off with Papageno to find Sarastro’s temple. The three ladies appear again and give him a magic flute, which they say will protect him from harm. They also give Papageno magic bells, which they say should have a similar effect. They also introduce three spirits, who will appear and guide them when needed.
Meanwhile, Pamina is imprisoned within Sarastro’s temple by her devilish captor, Monostatos. Alone and afraid, Papageno finds her. Before they make their escape, the two sing hopefully of finding their other halves.
Outside of the temple, three spirits lead Tamino to a series of doors, warning him to be brave and steadfast. A priest appears, and warns Tamino of the Queen’s deceit. Tamino wrestles with the idea that Sarastro is actually a good man, and eventually decides to enter the temple to continue his search for Pamina.
At the same time, Papageno and Pamina have been caught escaping by Monostotos. As the slaves surround them with chains, Papageno plays his bells. As if by a spell, they drop their chains and dance off the stage, hypnotized by the music.
Sarastro enters, and the two lovers meet for the first time. Monostatos runs in, arguing that Pamina is his, but is rebuked by Sarastro. It is then announced that Tamino must undergo trials of wisdom in order to wed Pamina.
15 minute intermission
The priests tell Tamino that the first trial is a vow of silence. Tamino keeps it, but Papageno is dissuaded when the three ladies appear and attempt to trick Tamino into speaking.
Meanwhile, the broken Monostatos attempts to kiss the sleeping Pamina. The Queen of the Night appears, and orders him to withdraw. He hides himself. The Queen wakes Pamina and demands that she kill Sarastro, furnishing her with a massive dagger. Pamina attempts to refuse, but the Queen is relentless in her charge, driven by the desire for a powerful pendant given to Sarastro by her late husband which has the power to control the day. She leaves Pamina in tears just as Monostatos returns to confront her about the murder. He offers her the choice to marry him in exchange for his silence, but she refuses. Sarastro, hearing everything, then enters and forgives Pamina, explaining that revenge has no place in the Temple of the Sun.
As they endure their trials, Papageno complains of thirst. An old woman appears offering him a glass of water, which he accepts. Before he can find out more, she disappears with a crash of thunder. Pamina wanders in, and attempts to speak to Tamino. Bound by the vow of silence, however, Tamino cannot reply. She begins to wonder if he loves her at all. As she exits the old woman enters again, proposing marriage to Papageno and warning him that if he does not accept, he will be imprisoned forever in the dark labyrinth of the temple. He reluctantly agrees, and she reveals herself to be his long-awaited mate, Papagena. Ecstatic, the two embrace, but are separated by a priest, who says that Papageno is unworthy of her.
Meanwhile, Pamina contemplates suicide, but is stopped by the three spirits, who assure her that Tamino still loves her.
The armoured men lead in Tamino, who is set to complete his trials of fire and water. Pamina agrees to undergo them with him, which gives Tamino great courage. They undergo the trials victoriously, and celebrate with the inhabitants of the temple.
The Queen and her ladies are lead into the temple by Monostatos during all of this, and attempt to destroy the temple. However, the temple’s magic dispels them, vanquishing them into eternal night.
Tamino and Pamina are joined, and Sarastro and the priests celebrate their union as the curtain falls.