The character, Monostatos, in Mozart’s opera, The Magic Flute (1791)

Described as a Moor, the character of Monostatos in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s opera, The Magic Flute (1791) represents an amalgam of racist stereotypes surrounding blackness in the late eighteenth century. Being black, Monostatos, the overseer of Sarastro’s temple, is not to be trusted and has dark and evil tendencies. He appears in most productions as grotesque, dirty, and buffoon-like, incapable of being truly loved by another.  His name alone – Greek for “standing alone” – implies that he is an outsider or an outcast. He desires the heroine of the opera, Pamina, who Mozart portrays as beautiful, pure, and white, but his pathetic love for her cannot be requited.

Since the postwar period, opera companies have had difficulties figuring out how to portray this character. Some critics have even asked why opera houses perform this opera at all

Consider this aria below that Monostatos sings (“Alles fühlt der Liebe Freuden”), which was intended to be a comedic number. In it, he longs for the love of Pamina, his supposed white counterpart and opposite. Is he portrayed favorably? Where might we see stereotypes in this song?

Kira Thurman


Deutsch

Die Zauberflöte, Hamburg Staatsoper, 1968

English Translation
Everyone feels the joys of love,
Bill and coo, flirt, snuggle, and kiss,
And I am supposed to avoid love,
Because a Black is ugly,
Because a Black is ugly.
Have I, then, been given no heart?
I am also fond of girls,
I am also fond of girls,
Always to live without a woman
Would truly be the blaze of hell,
Would truly be the blaze of hell,

So, therefore I want, because I am alive,
to bill and coo, kiss, be tender.
Dear, good moon, forgive me,
A White took possession of me,
A White took possession of me,
White is beautiful! I must kiss her;
Moon, hide yourself from this!
Should it vex you too much,
Oh, then close your eyes!
Oh, then close your eyes!
Oh, then close your eyes!


Source: Emanuel Schickaneder and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Die Zauberflöte: Eine grosse Oper in zwey Aufzügen (Frankfurt and Leipzig: n.p., 1794), translated by Kira Thurman.


The character, Monostatos, in Mozart’s opera, The Magic Flute (1791) by Kira Thurman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at https://blackcentraleurope.com/who-we-are/.

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