Abstract

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s (1756–1791) Die Zauberflöte (libretto by Emanuel Schikaneder, 1751–1812) is one of the most popular operas in the history of the genre. And yet, for contemporary audiences, it is deeply problematic, marred by its stereotypical portrayal of the stage moor Monostatos, whom Georg Nikolaus von Nissen—second husband to Mozart’s widow Constanze—describes in his biography of the composer as a “low, cowardly slave [whose] submissive character was created in correspondence with his nation.” This article looks at Monostatos in the philosophical and social context of the eighteenth century. It argues that the role reflects the pervasive racial stereotypes of Enlightenment-era anthropology— stereotypes that were so well entrenched that the opera’s authors did not question them despite their personal acquaintance with a highly respected African living in Vienna at the time: Angelo Soliman (c. 1720/21–96).

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