Prince Tamino is hunting in the mountains. He loses his way. A hideous serpent overcomes him. Tamino shouts for help. He is overcome by fatigue and falls down unconscious. Three attendants come to his rescue and kill the serpent. Seeing the unconscious prince, they are overcome by his physical beauty and each wishes to remain by his side. However, duty calls. They must inform their sovereign, the Queen of the Night, of all that has transpired.
Upon awakening, Tamino sees Papageno, the bird-catcher, who pretends that he has killed the serpent. The three attendants appear and are outraged by Papageno’s lies. They punish Papageno by sealing his lips with a padlock. The attendants present Prince Tamino with a medallion with a portrait of Pamina, the Queen of the Night’s daughter. Tamino falls hopelessly in love. According to the Queen of the Night, the girl was kidnapped by Sarastro, an evil magician. Tamino decides to rescue Pamina. The attendants give Tamino a gift from their sovereign – a magic flute that will assist him in his quest. Papageno is given magic chimes and is commanded by the Queen to help the Prince. The attendants introduce the three child-spirits, who will guide Tamino and Papageno to Sarastro’s kingdom.
In Sarastro’s castle, the Moor Monostatos has been entrusted with guarding Pamina. Instead, Monostatos is making inappropriate advances. Pamina tries to flee, but is unsuccessful. Suddenly, Papageno appears. Papageno and the Moor scare each other. Monostatos flees. Papageno tells Pamina that he has been sent by her mother and that a prince, who has seen her portrait, has fallen in love with her. Pamina agrees to flee with Papageno.
Tamino is beside the entrance to the Temple of Knowledge. He enters and meets a priest who enlightens him as to the real reason for Sarastro’s actions. Sarastro is guided by goodness, wisdom and benevolence, for these are the main features of his greatness. According to the priest, these are also Pamina’s characteristics and it is precisely for this reason that her place is not in the Kingdom of Darkness but in the Kingdom of Light. Tamino begins to play the magic flute and hears Papageno’s bird flute in answer. Papageno and Pamina are nearby and hurrying to meet him. At the last minute, the Moor and his slaves overtake the fleeing pair. Their only hope for rescue are the magic chimes. Their sound deprives the aggressors of their aggression and anger. Enraptured, Monostatos and his slaves sing and dance and then leave.
Sarastro makes a grand and mighty entrance. Pamina confesses to fleeing and asks for forgiveness. Additionally, she recounts how Monostatos made advances at her. The captured Tamino is brought in. Monostatos brags about his loyalty to Sarastro. However, because of his duplicity, Monostatos does not receive an award. Instead, he is punished. All, who are present, proclaim the wisdom of Sarastro’s judgment. Sarastro, in turn, announces that the newly arrived must undergo several challenges in order to be cleansed. Only then will they be worthy to receive that which they desire.
Sarastro informs the priests that Tamino has been sent to protect the Temple of Knowledge from the Queen of the Night and her attempts to usurp power. In the event that he successfully completes all the challenges, Tamino will be initiated as one of the Enlightened in the Temple of Wisdom and Pamina will become his wife. The first challenge is the ability to withstand female enticement by observing a vow of silence. The three attendants appear and attempt to entice Tamino and Papageno to break their vow. Tamino remains aloof and their attempts are not successful.
In the orchard, Monostatos creeps up to the sleeping Pamina, showing his passionate desire to kiss her. The Queen of the Night appears. She banishes Monostatos and, while expressing her hatred for Sarastro, gives her daughter an ultimatum. Pamina must kill Sarastro in order to gain power over the all-powerful talisman – the sun-disk, which Sarastro received from the Queen of the Night’s deceased husband. Pamina is distraught. Monostatos, who has eavesdropped on everything threatens her and her mother with blackmail. His advances and threats are interrupted by Sarastro. Monostatos flees.
Papageno is in the Temple’s courtyard. Unlike Tamino, Papageno can’t keep his promise to remain silent. His greatest wish is a glass of wine, which he immediately receives from an old hag. The hag tells Papageno that she is his preordained companion and disappears. The frightened Papageno vows to remain silent from that time on.
Tamino plays the magic flute. Pamina enters. Tamino keeps to his vow of silence and doesn’t answer her questions and admonishments. Pamina becomes extremely distraught and leaves in despair. In the Temple, the priests congratulate Tamino on successfully meeting the challenges. Sarastro gives the couple an opportunity to say goodbuy before Tamino’s final challenge. Papageno has not been successful in completing the challenges. He will never enter the Temple of Light and will never become one of the Englightened. Papageno is not distrubed by this for his desire is limited to drink, food and women. The priests bid him farewell. Once again, the old hag appears. She threatens Papageno with certain death unless he swears marital loyalty to her. Hearing an affirmative response from Papageno, the hag is transformed into a young, seductive female and… instantly disappears. The priests have decided that Papageno is not worthy of this prize.
Pamina is in despair and on the verge of suicide. The three child-spirits hold her back and convince her that Tamino still loves her. At the same time, Tamino is ready for the third and final challenge. Pamina appears. She wants to go through the challenge together with Tamino. As the sounds of the magic flute play in the background, the young couple successfully go through fire and water. This is the triumph of their faith, endurance and courage.
Meanwhile, Papageno, dissillusioned with his own frailty and loss of Papagena, wants to committ suicide. At the last minute, the three child-spirits appear and remind him about the magic chimes. The enchanting and desirable Papagena appears. In complete harmony, the pair dreams about the future and a large family.
Monostatos secretly leads the Queen of the Night and her three attendants to Sarastro’s Temple. The conspirators dream of a final chance to kill Sarastro and destroy the Temple of Light. Lightening strikes! Thunder roars. The powers of darkness disappear. The sun rises. Sarastro, the priests and all the people greet the Light, Wisdom and Love that will rule the world for ever and ever.