Tamino assumes his rescue was at the hands of Papageno, despite the odd appearance of the bird-man. Papageno is willing to take the hero’s credit but is ultimately punished for his lies when the Ladies return. Tamino is offered a portrait of the Queen’s daughter, Pamina, which he serenades with tenderness and appreciation of her beauty. The Ladies share the awful situation that Pamina has been kidnapped by an evil Magician and is held hostage. The Queen of the Night appears and implores Tamino to rescue her beloved daughter, promising her in marriage if he is victorious. Our hero, with Papageno as his odd companion, sets out to rescue the maiden equipped with two magical musical instruments.
In the palace of the magician Sarastro, where Pamina is being held, Papago strays in, sent ahead by Tamino, and his bizarre appearance frightens the Moorish slave guarding the girl. Mutually terrified, both Papageno and Monostatos consider each other a devil and flee. Ultimately, the princess comes to believe that her mother has sent a prince to rescue her. In a tender moment Papageno tells of his own yearning for love and the scene ends with their duet about the joys of love.
In his quest for Pamina, Tamino encounters a wise man at the site of three temples who tells him that the motives of the magician are in service of wisdom and enlightenment, far beyond the understanding of the Queen or any woman without the guidance of a man. Sarastro arrives and the terrified Pamina and Tamino are brought to him. It’s revealed that Pamina’s mother, the Queen of the Night, seeks to destroy knowledge and wisdom in the darkness of her need for power. To fight this evil domination, the lovers are veiled and sent on separate quests. Tamino is led to the Temple of Probation while Pamina is taken to the Temple of Wisdom.
Tamino is presented with tasks and rules that are meant to lead him to his higher self. Despite distractions and temptations, the prince proves himself worthy. In contrast to the exalted hero’s journey of Tamino, the other characters are presented with a wild variety of situations. The Moorish slave lusts after Pamina and is punished by Sarastro. Pamina fights for her virtue and is willing to die rather than submit to evil. She is pushed to value power over love by her mother Queen of the Night, but fights despair by her strength and love for Tamino. Papageno, a truly naïve son of nature, wants to be loyal and brave but his foolishness cannot rise above his own fears and honest enjoyment of the simple pleasures of life, food, drink, and love. His wishes are granted when the magic of his music rewards him with his perfect counterpart, Papagena, and their own delightful love nest.
The Queen of the Night is, in fact, trying to destroy the brotherhood of the seekers of wisdom. After the Sarastro and the Priests successfully guide Tamino and Pamina through the ultimate quest to free them from the fear of death, the evil forces of the Queen, her ladies and the Moorish slave Monostatos try to attack the temple. The opera ends with Sarastro, Tamina, Pamini, the Genii, Priests and others shattering their treachery through the power of courage, fidelity, and virtue.