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The Opera Quarterly 21.1 (2005) 2-26



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Monostatos and His "Sister"

Racial Stereotype in Die Zauberflöte and Its Sequel

In his 1955 "Metalogue to The Magic Flute," W. H. Auden cunningly exposes the opera's racist thread:

And how is—what was easy in the past—
A democratic villain to be cast?
Monostatos must make his bad impression
Without a race, religion or profession.1

Auden's question reverberates still. For Los Angeles (1993, 1998), Gerald Scarfe transformed Monostatos "into a green-faced creature with a potbelly and a poor sense of balance, a sort of Dr. Seuss character with a bad attitude."2 For Florence and Turin (1993 and 1994), Julie Taymor offered a pig-footed Monostatos who "sported a bat cape like that of the evil prime minister in The Stag King."3

For Emanuel Schikaneder in the 1790s, the answer truly was "easy," readily available, and certain to elicit favorable audience response: crude racial stereotyping.

At the same time, all the Papagenas and Papagenos appear and bring the Moor in a huge aviary.
PAPAGENOS and PAPAGENAS [focusing upon Monostatos]:
See what a dangerous bird we bring.
He would eat people, [he] is malicious and impudent;
O, clap him quickly in iron rings
beside the Queen, before he bites us.
The Moor is fettered.4 [End Page 2]

Thus did Schikaneder write finis to Monostatos's deeds of disruption, treachery, and attempted rape and murder throughout the celebrated Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute, 1791) and its little-known sequel, Das Labyrinth oder Der Kampf mit den Elementen (The Labyrinth, or, The Battle with the Elements, 1798). Confined, shackled, ridiculed, does the "dangerous bird" reflect upon the circumstances which have reduced him to this sorry state, rendering him simultaneously product and victim of long-established prejudices that continued to circulate throughout Europe during the "Age of Enlightenment"?

Vivid proof of the volatile interface of politics, popular culture, and high art in Josephinian Vienna, Die Zauberflöte reveals the Austrian magic opera (Zauberoper) of the popular theaters raised to an exalted level by the master chefs Schikaneder and Mozart.5 At the opera's close several plot threads dangle: Sarastro has not yet retired (pace Ingmar Bergman); the couples on the side of light—Tamino/Pamina, Papageno/Papagena—remain unwed; although defeated, the Queen and Monostatos have not necessarily been destroyed. Contemplating the potentially handsome sums to be earned from a sequel, Schikaneder engaged the composer Peter Winter (1754–1825) as his collaborator in the venture. Labyrinth premiered 12 June 1798 at the Wiednertheater, with Schikaneder reprising his role of the bird-catcher.6

The Zauberoper recipe mandates comic figures—often strange, bizarre, even grotesque in appearance and manner—be they European or "Other." Some represent air and light; others represent earth and darkness. Consideration of Papageno's opposite, the "Moor" Monostatos, raises the issue of racial stereotype in late eighteenth-century Viennese magic opera. The alla turca style that spices Monostatos's sole aria in Zauberflöte irresistibly invites scrutiny of this exotic person who flits through the pages of Labyrinth too. Investigation across a range of disciplines soon uncovers a host of endeavors that flash potent, often ugly messages to the librettist seeking raw material from which to fashion a black character.

As a further exploration of the Viennese Zauberoper genre that flourished due in no small measure to the efforts of Schikaneder, Mozart, and Winter, the present study has three purposes: (1) to identify the ingredients of a stereotype as revealed in a representative cross-section of eighteenth-century European cultural manifestations—humanistic, scientific, and literary—all of them readily available in Schikaneder's time and place; (2) to contemplate the portrait of Monostatos that results from Schikaneder's individual mixture of these ingredients; and (3) to examine the gendered stereotype-within-a-stereotype personified by the mysterious, potentially lethal Gura, the most beguiling of Monostatos's three "sisters." Making the latter two endeavors possible is Manuela Jahrmärker and Till Gerrit Waidelich's recent recovery and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1476-2870
Print ISSN
0736-0053
Pages
pp. 2-26
Launched on MUSE
2005-06-07
Open Access
No
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