Die Entführung aus dem Serail (K. 384; The Abduction from the Seraglio; also known as Il Seraglio) is an opera Singspiel in three acts by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The German libretto is by Christoph Friedrich Bretzner with adaptations by Gottlieb Stephanie. The plot concerns the attempt of the hero Belmonte, assisted by his servant Pedrillo, to rescue his beloved Konstanze from the seraglio of the Pasha Selim.
The origin of the opera
The company that first sponsored the opera was the Nationalsingspiel ("national Singspiel"), a pet project (1778–1783) of the Austrian emperor Joseph II. The Emperor had set up the company to perform works in the German language (Italian opera was already popular in Vienna). This project was ultimately given up as a failure, but along the way it produced a number of successes, mostly a series of translated works. Mozart's opera emerged as its outstanding original success.
The inspector of the Nationalsingspiel was Gottlieb Stephanie. When the 25-year-old Mozart arrived in Vienna in 1781, seeking professional opportunity, one of the first tasks to which he addressed himself was to become acquainted with Stephanie and lobby him for an opera commission. To this end, he brought a copy of his earlier opera Zaide and showed it to Stephanie, who was duly impressed. Mozart also made a strong impression on the manager of the theater, Count Franz Xaver Rosenberg-Orsini, when in the home of Mozart's friend and patroness Maria Wilhelmine Thun the Count heard him play excerpts from his opera Idomeneo, premiered with great success the previous year in Munich. With this backing, it was agreed that Stephanie would find appropriate material and prepare a libretto for Mozart. Stephanie complied by first pirating and then altering an earlier work by Bretzner, who later complained loudly and publicly about the theft.
Mozart received the libretto from Stephanie on 29 July 1781. He had had few opportunities to compose professionally during the summer and he set to work on the libretto at a very rapid pace, finishing three major numbers in just two days. A letter to his father Leopold indicates he was very excited about the prospect of having his opera performed in Vienna, and worked enthusiastically on his project.
At first Mozart thought he needed to finish his opera in only two months, because tentative plans were made to perform it at the September visit of the Russian Grand Duke Paul (son of Catherine the Great and heir to the Russian throne). However, it was ultimately decided to perform operas by Gluck instead, giving Mozart more time.
It was around this time that Mozart articulated his views about the role of the composer and the librettist in the preparation of an opera. He wrote to his father (13 October 1781):
- "I would say that in an opera the poetry must be altogether the obedient daughter of the music. Why are Italian comic operas popular everywhere — in spite of the miserable libretti? … Because the music reigns supreme, and when one listens to it all else is forgotten. An opera is sure of success when the plot is well worked out, the words written solely for the music and not shoved in here and there to suit some miserable rhyme ... The best thing of all is when a good composer, who understands the stage and is talented enough to make sound suggestions, meets an able poet, that true phoenix; in that case, no fears need be entertained as to the applause — even of the ignorant."
It would seem that something along these lines did happen—that is, Mozart decided to play a major role in the shaping of the libretto, insisting that Stephanie make changes for dramatic and musical effect. On 26 September Mozart wrote:
- "Now comes the rub! The first act was finished more than three weeks ago, as was also one aria in Act 2 and the drunken duet ["Vivat Bacchus", Act 2] ... But I cannot compose any more, because the whole story is being altered — and, to tell the truth, at my own request. At the beginning of Act 3 there is a charming quintet or rather finale, but I would prefer to have it at the end of Act 2. In order to make this practicable, great changes must be made, in fact an entirely new plot must be introduced — and Stephanie is up to his neck in other work. So we must have a little patience."
Mozart was evidently quite pleased to have in Stephanie a librettist who would listen to him. The September 26 letter also says:
- "Everyone abuses Stephanie. It may be the case he is only friendly to my face. But after all he is preparing the libretto for me —and, what is more, exactly as I want it— and by Heaven, I don't ask anything more of him."
With the delays for rewriting, the composition took several more months. The premiere took place on 16 July 1782, at the Burgtheater in Vienna.
The character of the opera
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (center) attended a performance of his own opera Die Entführung aus dem Serail
in Berlin in 1789. In the role of Osmin performed Franz Frankenberg, Pedrillo played by Friedrich Ernst Wilhelm Greibe.
Die Entführung aus dem Serail is in the genre of "Singspiel", meaning that much of the action is carried forward by spoken dialogue, thus the music lacks recitatives and consists entirely of set numbers.
The work is lighthearted and frequently comic, with little deep character exploration or darker feelings found in Mozart's later operas. Along with other contemporary works, such as Giovanni Paolo Marana's Letters Writ by a Turkish Spy and Montesquieu's Persian Letters, the opera was inspired by a contemporary interest in the perceived "exotic" culture of the Ottoman Empire, a nation which had only recently ceased to be a military threat to the Austrian Empire. Mozart's opera includes a Westernized version of Turkish music, based very loosely on the Turkish Janissary band music that he had employed in earlier work. (See Turkish music (style)). Like most comedies of the time, it incorporates many elements of plot and characterization established by the popular Commedia dell'arte.
Certain aspects of the opera conform to an eighteenth century European view of orientalism. The Pasha's titular harem, for example, reprised themes of sexual libertinage. And the comically sinister overseer, Osmin, is a send-up of earlier stereotypes of Turkish despotism. However, the opera also defies the stereotyped expectations of a despotic Turkish culture, since its climax hinges around a selfless act of forgiveness on the part of the Pasha.
The music includes some of the composer's most spectacular and difficult arias. Osmin's Act 3 aria "O, wie will ich triumphieren" includes characteristic 18th century coloratura passage work, and twice goes down to a low D (D2), one of the lowest notes demanded of any voice in opera. Perhaps the most famous aria in the opera is the long and elaborate "Martern aller Arten" ("Tortures of all kinds") for Konstanze, an outstanding challenge for sopranos. Konstanze sings in a kind of sinfonia concertante with four solo players from the orchestra; the strikingly long orchestral introduction, without stage action, also poses problems for stage directors.
The virtuosity of these roles is perhaps attributable to the fact that when he took up the task of composing the opera, Mozart already knew the outstanding reputations of the singers for whom he was writing, and he tailored the arias to their strengths. The first Osmin was Ludwig Fischer, a bass noted for his wide range and skill in leaping over large intervals with ease. Similarly, Mozart wrote of the first Konstanze, Catarina Cavalieri, "I have sacrificed Konstanze's aria a little to the flexible throat of Mlle. Cavalieri."
The opera was a huge success. The first two performances brought in the large sum of 1200 florins, three times what Mozart's salary had been for his old job in Salzburg. The work was repeatedly performed in Vienna during Mozart's lifetime, and throughout German-speaking Europe. In 1787, Goethe wrote (concerning his own efforts as a librettist):
- "All our endeavour ... to confine ourselves to what is simple and limited was lost when Mozart appeared. Die Entführung aus dem Serail conquered all, and our own carefully written piece has never been so much as mentioned in theater circles."
Although the opera greatly raised Mozart's standing with the public as a composer, it did not make him rich: he was paid a flat fee of 100 Imperial ducats (about 450 florins) for his work, and made no profits from the many subsequent performances.
The opera reached Paris in November 1801, when Frédéric Blasius conducted Ellmenreich's company in performances at the Théâtre de la Gaîté.
The opera continues to be frequently performed today, and there are many recordings.
The "too many notes" tale
The complexity of Mozart's work, noted early on by Goethe, also plays a role in a well-known tale about the opera. In the version from Bartlett's Book of Anecdotes, the story goes like this:
- "The Emperor Joseph II commissioned the creation of The abduction from the Seraglio, but when he heard it, he complained to Mozart, 'That is too fine for my ears — there are too many notes.' Mozart replied, 'There are just as many notes as there should be.'"
The anecdote originally appeared in an early biography of Mozart by Franz Xaver Niemetschek. Its authenticity is not accepted by all scholars.
The anecdote, which is often repeated, may have unfairly given the Emperor a bad reputation, concerning both his own musical abilities and his appreciation and support of Mozart. For defense of Joseph from such criticisms, see Beales (2006). Branscombe (2006) mitigates the story's implications with a different translation of the ambiguous German word "gewaltig", rendering it as "very many" rather than "too many".
The singers perform with a Classical-era orchestra, augmented with the instruments needed for "Turkish" music: bass drum, cymbals, triangle, and piccolo. Aside from these, the orchestra consists of pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns, trumpets, a set of two timpani, and strings. The aria, "Sorrow has become my lot", is also augmented by basset horn.
- Place: the country house of the Pasha (German "Bassa"), somewhere along the Mediterranean coast
- Time: 18th century
Belmonte enters, looking for his betrothed, Konstanze, who with her English servant Blonde has fallen into the hands of pirates and been sold to the Pasha Selim (Aria: "Here shall I see you, Konstanze, you my hope.") Osmin, the Pasha's bad-tempered servant, comes to pluck figs in the garden and completely ignores Belmonte's questions (Aria: "Who a love has found.") Belmonte tries to obtain news of his servant, Pedrillo, who has been captured with the women and is serving as a servant in the Pasha's palace. Osmin replies with insults and abuse. (Duet: "Confounded be you and your song.") Belmonte leaves in disgust. Pedrillo enters and Osmin rages at him, vowing to get him tortured and killed in many different ways. (Aria: "Such ragamuffins.") Osmin leaves and Belmonte enters and happily reunites with Pedrillo. Together they resolve to rescue Konstanze and Pedrillo's fiancee, Blonde, who is Konstanze's servant. (Aria: "Konstanze, Konstanze, to see thee again").
Accompanied by a chorus of Janissaries ("Sing to the great Pasha") the Pasha Selim appears with Konstanze, for whose love he strives in vain. (Aria of Konstanze: "O forgive! Oh, I loved") Pedrillo tricks the Pasha into hiring Belmonte as an architect. When Belmonte and Pedrillo try to enter the palace, Osmin bars their way, but they hurry past him anyway. (Terzett: "March! March! March!")
Blonde repulses the rough lovemaking attempts of Osmin (Aria: "By tenderness and flattery."), and threatens to scratch out his eyes. After a duet ("I'm going, but I warn you...."), Osmin departs. Konstanze greets Blonde in distress (Aria: "Sorrow has become my lot"), informing her that Selim demands her love and threatens to use force. (Aria: "This also will I bear.")
When she has gone, Pedrillo comes to Blonde, who is his sweetheart, and informs her that Belmonte has come and is planning to rescue them. Blonde is filled with joy. (Aria: "What happiness, what delight.") Pedrillo invites Osmin to drink, hoping that he will become intoxicated. (Duet: "Vivat Bacchus!") When Osmin has drunk himself into a stupor, the two couples reunite. (Quartet, Belmonte, Konstanze, Pedrillo, Blonde: "Oh, Belmonte, oh my life.") Belmonte and Pedrillo both question anxiously whether their respective fiancees have remained faithful during their forced separation; to their delight the women respond with indignation and dismay. They forgive the offensive questions and the curtain falls.
Belmonte and Pedrillo come to the garden with ladders. (Aria, Belmonte: "When the tears of joy do fall"; Romanze, Pedrillo: "Captive in the land of the Moors.") However, they and the women are caught by Osmin, who rouses the castle (Aria: "Ho, how I will rejoice when they lead you to the gallows"). Belmonte pleads for their lives and tells Selim Pasha that his father is a Spanish Grandee and Governor of Oran, named Lostados, who will pay a generous ransom. Unfortunately, Pasha Selim and Lostados are long-standing enemies. The Pasha rejoices in the opportunity to kill his enemy's son. He leaves Belmonte and Konstanze to bid each other a last farewell (Duet: "Oh what a fate, oh soul's misery."), but when he returns, he decides he can make a better point against Lostados by releasing Belmonte and his friends. All are set at liberty — much to the dismay of Osmin, who would prefer to see them all brutally executed. (Finale: "Never will I thy kindness forget.")
- "Hier soll ich dich denn sehen" — Belmonte, Scene 1
- "Wer ein Liebchen hat gefunden" — Osmin, Scene 2
- "Solche hergelaufne Laffen" — Osmin, Scene 3
- "Konstanze, Konstanze … O wie ängstlich" — Belmonte, Scene 5
- "Ach, ich liebte" — Konstanze, Scene 7
- "Durch Zärtlichkeit und Schmeicheln" — Blonde, Scene 1
- "Welcher Wechsel herrscht … Traurigkeit ward mir zum Lose" — Konstanze, Scene 2
- "Martern aller Arten" — Konstanze, Scene 3
- "Welche Wonne, welche Lust" — Blonde, Scene 6
- "Frisch zum Kampfe!" — Pedrillo, Scene 7
- "Wenn der Freude Tränen fliessen" — Belmonte, Scene 9
- "Ich baue ganz auf deine Stärke" — Belmonte, Scene 3
- "In Mohrenland gefangen war" — Pedrillo, Scene 4
- "O, wie will ich triumphieren" — Osmin, Scene 5
The Finnish composer Aulis Sallinen has written an opera called The Palace; it contains characters from Abduction and uses the plot of Mozart's opera as the starting point of a bizarre fantasy.
Music professor, composer, and humorist Peter Schickele claims to have "discovered" P.D.Q. Bach's The Abduction of Figaro, a pastiche of the Entführung and Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro.
- ^ Manning 1982
- ^ a b c Abert 2007, 620
- ^ Deutsch 1965
- ^ Braunbehrens 1990, 61
- ^ Quoted in Braunbehrens 1990, 61–62
- ^ Quoted in Braunbehrens 1990, 77–78
- ^ Quoted in Braunbehrens 1990, 62
- ^ *Jakubcová, Alena (ed.) (2007). Starší divadlo v českých zemích do konce 18. století. Prague: Divadelní ústav, Academia. p. 707. ISBN 978-80-200-1486-3 (Academia). (Czech)
- ^ See, for example, Manning 1982
- ^ Braunbehrens (1990, 74). Braunbehrens suggests that "preparations had just begun to celebrate" the centennial of lifting of the Turkish Siege of Vienna in 1683. Later in the decade, Austria was again at war with Turkey (see Austro-Turkish War (1787–1791)) but this was a war of aggression, not defense.
- ^ Osterhammel Die Entzauberung Asiens: Europa und die asiatischen Reiche im 18. Jahrhundert, 1998, who notes: "Neben das alte Bild des dämonisierten Feindes trat in der künstlerischen Repräsentation nun der übertölpelte Buffo-Türke, wie man ihn als Haremswächter Osmin auf Mozarts Entführung aus dem Serail (1782) kennt." (Next to the older image of the demonised enemy stood the over-the-top Turkish Buffoon in cultural representation, such as the Harem overseer Osmin from Mozart's Abduction from the Seraglio." p. 34
- ^ Others have suggested that the Pasha is portrayed and positively valorised for acting like a Christian (this argument is made in Matthew Head — Orientalism, Masquerade and Mozart's Turkish Music, and possibly implied by Mary Hunter who says that he is 'represented as European by his act of mercy' (in 'The Alla Turca Style' in Jonathan Bellman (ed) — The Exotic in Western Music)).
- ^ For discussion, see Rosen (1997, 165) and Eisen (2006, 164–165).
- ^ Deutsch 1965, 201
- ^ For a listing see Deutsch 1965, 201
- ^ See the index entry for the opera in Deutsch 1965. The Stuttgart premiere had to wait until 19 September 1795, because the singspiel Belmont und Constanze, set to the same story by Christian Ludwig Dieter (1757–1822), first performed there in 1784, was so popular as to preclude any performances of Mozart's version; Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 5th ed, 1954, Eric Blom, ed.
- ^ Quoted from Deutsch 1965, 305. The work of his own to which Goethe refers is his Scherz, List und Rache.
- ^ Deutsch 1965, 202
- ^ Noiray, Michel. "Blasius [Blassius], (Matthieu-)Frédéric" in Stanley Sadie, ed., The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, 4 vols. (London: Macmillan, 1992), 1: 498
- ^ Bernard and Fadiman (2000, 339)
- ^ German text: "Zu schön für unsere Ohren, und gewaltig viel Noten, lieber Mozart!" / "Gerade so viel als nötig, Euer Majestät". Cited text from: "… gewaltig viele Noten, lieber Mozart!". Die Mozart-Autographe der Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, Exhibition notes, Berlin 2006, by Roland Dieter Schmidt-Hensel, State Library Berlin; Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz.
- ^ See Schmidt-Hensel, previous footnote, and references cited there.
- ^ Beales (2006, 238–239)
- ^ Branscombe (2006, 165)
- Abert, Hermann (2007) W. A. Mozart, trans. Stewart Spencer. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 0300072236. [This is a recent edition of a much older work.]
- Beales, Derek (2006) "Joseph II, Joseph(in)ism," in Cliff Eisen and Simon P. Keefe, eds., The Cambridge Mozart Encyclopedia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 232–239.
- Bernard, Andre, and Clifton Fadiman (2000) Bartlett's Book of Anecdotes. Boston: Little, Brown. p. 339.
- Branscombe, Peter (2006) "Die Entführung aus dem Serail," in Cliff Eisen and Simon P. Keefe, eds., The Cambridge Mozart Encyclopedia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Braunbehrens, Volkmar (1990) Mozart in Vienna, 1781—1791. Translated by Timothy Bell. New York: Grove Weidenfeld.
- Deutsch, Otto Erich (1965) Mozart: A Documentary Biography. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
- Manning, Elizabeth (1982) "Mozart's Entführung: An Anniversary", The Musical Times, Vol. 123, No. 1673, Early Music Issue. (Jul., 1982), pp. 473–474.
- Plot adapted from The Opera Goer's Complete Guide by Leo Melitz, 1921 version.
- Osterhammel, Jürgen. Die Entzauberung Asiens: Europa und die asiatischen Reiche im 18. Jahrhundert. München: C. H. Beck, 1998, ISBN 340644203X, ISBN 9783406442032
- Rosen, Charles (1997) The Classical Style: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, New York: Norton.
- A discussion and analysis of the opera by Julian Rushton appears in the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians