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I have come across depictions of the dragon of The Magic Flute opera where the creature is conveyed as a dragon, but I have also seen that the original German word should be interpreted as simply a snake.

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Is there a depiction that is more accurate than the other, or is it left to interpretation?

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In the opera Tamino is pursued by an enormous serpent or snake, which is then killed by the attendants of the Queen of the Night. The exact nature of the beast is not relevant to the rest of the story, so it's quite possible that some productions might have given the creature legs and made a dragon out of it. In Schikaneder's libretto and Mozart's original manuscript the creature is a ferocious lion. The lion is crossed out in the score and replaced by a cunning serpent, probably because the lion later becomes Sarastro's symbol (he arrives in a chariot drawn by six of them). enter image description here

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  • Did you mean to write "in Schikaneder's original draft of the libretto" or something else? – phoog Nov 17 '20 at 2:18
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Taminos first few lines are:

Zu Hilfe! Zu Hilfe! sonst bin ich verloren, / der listigen Schlange zum Opfer erkoren –

Here this is translated to

Help me! oh, help me! or I am lost / condemned as sacrifice to the cunning serpent –

So as PiedPier correctly states, it is definitely serpent or snake, but I see no real problems replacing that by another beast; if its name has two syllables with the first one emphasized, the text could even be modified accordingly (seldom done today with all historically informed stuff).

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