The music of The Magic Flute closely underscores the drama. Mozart used varied musical styles to depict his characters. Folksy birdcatcher Papageno—a role first played by Schikaneder himself—and his late-appearing sweetheart Papagena (the names derive from the German word for “parrot”) are given unpretentious, folklike melodies. By contrast, the deceptive Queen of the Night is portrayed as an Italianate coloratura indulging in both vocal and emotional histrionics. (The role, written for Mozart’s sister-in-law Josepha Hofer, is famed in opera circles as the highest and perhaps most difficult ever composed, with its light, fast coloratura singing and large intervals between consecutive pitches.) For the young lovers Tamino and Pamina, Mozart composed music that is sweetly romantic yet also harmonically progressive, using at times an unusually chromatic vocal line. Using music to reinforce personality allowed Mozart to create characters that continue to move modern audiences.
Like Mozart’s few other German-language operas—including Die Entführung aus dem Serail, The Abduction from the Seraglio—The Magic Flute is a singspiel, a form that includes spoken dialogue between the musical numbers. (See also operetta.) Works combining spoken words and sung text in local languages—German, French, and English—were fairly common, and these more-accessible works had periods of great local popularity. The Magic Flute, which was successful from the beginning, continues to make frequent appearances on the world’s opera stages.