Die Entführung aus dem Serail
; 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
"), 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 pirating, then altering, an earlier work by Bretzner. The latter 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 II and the drunken duet ["Vivat Bacchus", Act II] ... 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 III there is a charming quintet or rather finale, but I would prefer to have it at the end of Act II. 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
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 meant for fun, with little of the deeper character exploration or darker feelings found in Mozart's later operas. It played off a contemporary enthusiasm for the "exotic" culture of the Ottoman Empire, a nation which had only recently ceased to be a military threat to Austria and thus held a piquant interest for the Viennese. 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 utilizes many elements in plot and characterization that were first established by the Commedia dell'Arte.
The characters of the opera play off Turkish stereotypes, notably Osmin, the Pasha's comically sinister overseer. However, the opera cannot be entirely considered as stereotyping of the Turks, since the climax of the plot depends on a rather selfless act on the part of the Pasha.
The music includes some of the composer's most spectacular and difficult arias. Osmin's Act III aria "Wie will ich triumphiren" includes characteristic 18th century coloratura passage work, and twice goes down to a low D, the lowest note 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.
The complexity of Mozart's music also plays a role in an oft-retold tale about the work. 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."
Musicologist Conrad Wilson suggests that this is a mistranslation from the German: "what he really said (if he said it at all) was 'an extraordinary number of notes', which was not quite the same thing."
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 continues to be frequently performed today, and there are many recordings.
The role of Selim Pasha
The opera was first produced at the command of the Austrian emperor Joseph II
on 16 July 1782 at the Burgtheater
. It played off a contemporary enthusiasm for the "exotic" culture of the Ottoman Empire
, a nation which had only recently ceased to be a military threat to Austria. The Pasha
is named Selim, and the climax of the plot depends on a selfless act on the part of the Pasha. Some 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
The singers perform with a Classical-era orchestra
, augmented with the instruments needed for "Turkish" music: bass drum
, and piccolo
. Aside from these, the orchestra consists of pairs of flutes
, 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 seeks everywhere his betrothed, Konstanze, who with her English servant Blondchen has fallen into the hands of pirates who sold them to the Pasha
Selim (Aria: "Here shall I see you, Konstanze, you my hope.") Osmin, the Pasha's servant, comes to pluck figs
in the garden and completely ignores Belmonte's addresses (Aria: "Who a love has found.") Belmonte insists and tries to obtain news of his servant, Pedrillo. (Duet: "Confounded be you and your song.") Osmin is angry. ("Such ragamuffins.") Nevertheless, after the servant leaves, Belmonte meets Pedrillo and they resolve to abduct Konstanze. (Aria: "Konstanze, Konstanze, to see thee again").
Accompanied by a chorus of Janissaries ("Sing to the great Pasha") Selim appears with Konstanze, for whose love he strives in vain. (Aria of Konstanze: "O forgive! Oh, I loved") Upon the recommendation of Pedrillo, the Pasha engages Belmonte as builder, but Osmin refuses him access to the palace. (Terzett: "March! March! March!")
Blondchen repulses the rough lovemaking attempts of Osmin. (Aria: "By tenderness and flattery.") After a duet ("I go, but counsel thee to avoid the villain Pedrillo"), Osmin departs. Konstanze greets Blondchen 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 Blondchen, who is his sweetheart, and informs her that Belmonte is near and that all is ready for flight. Blondchen is filled with joy. (Aria: "What happiness, what delight.") Pedrillo invites Osmin to drink, hoping that he will become intoxicated. (Aria: "On to the combat" and duet: "Vivat Bacchus!") He succeeds in this plan and gets Osmin out of the way so that Belmonte again sees his beloved Konstanze. (Quartet, Belmonte, Konstanze, Pedrillo, Blondchen: "Oh, Belmonte, oh my life.")
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.") Belmonte succeeds in abducting Konstanze, but when Pedrillo is about to escape with Blondchen, they are caught by Osmin (Aria: "Ho, how I will triumph"), and Belmonte and Konstanze are also brought back by the guard. Belmonte pleading for their lives announces to Selim Pasha that his father is a Spanish Grandee
and Governor of Oran
who will pay a huge ransom, on hearing the name of Belmonte's father, Selim Pasha declares Belmonte the son of his greatest enemy, and rejoices on how fortune has handed him a chance for vengeance. (Duet: "Oh what a fate, oh soul's misery.") His heart, however, is touched by their sorrow; he forgives, and 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 in Act I, Scene I
- "Wer ein Liebchen hat gefunden" — Osmin in Act I, Scene II
- "Solche hergelaufne Laffen" — Osmin in Act I, Scene III
- "Konstanze, Konstanze … O wie ängstlich" — Belmonte in Act I, Scene V
- "Ach ich liebte" — Konstanze in Act I, Scene VII
- "Durch Zärtlichkeit und Schmeicheln" — Blondchen in Act II, Scene I
- "Welcher Wechsel herrscht … Traurigkeit ward mir zum Lose" — Konstanze in Act II, Scene II
- "Martern aller Arten" — Konstanze in Act II, Scene III
- "Welche Wonne, welche Lust" — Blondchen in Act II, Scene VI
- "Frisch zum Kampfe" — Pedrillo in Act II, Scene VII
- "Wenn der Freude Tränen fliessen" — Belmonte in Act II, Scene IX
- "Ich baue ganz auf deine Stärke" — Belmonte in Act III, Scene III
- "In Mohrenland gefangen war ein Mädel" — Pedrillo in Act III, Scene IV
- "O wie will ich triumphieren" — Osmin in Act III, Scene V
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.
- Abert, Hermann (2007) W. A. Mozart. Translated by Stewart Spencer. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 0300072236. [This is a recent edition of a much older work.]
- 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.
- 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
- For the "too many notes" anecdote":
- Text from Andre Bernard, Clifton Fadiman (2000) Bartlett's Book of Anecdotes. Boston: Little, Brown, p. 339.
- Comment from Conrad Wilson (2005) Notes On Mozart: 20 Crucial Works. Grand Rapids, MI and Cambridge, MA: Wm. B. Eerdmans, p. 59.