Mozart's "The Abduction from the Seraglio"

"The Abduction from the Seraglio" is the first opera Mozart wrote in Vienna. It is truly a gem -- and stands out from his other operatic works in several ways. It was written at a time when in Europe anything "Turkish" was all the rage. It's colorful, exotic and definitely foreign culture captured everyone's imagination, including Mozart's. He created a musical style that was to resemble Turkish music -- music full of percussion and exuberance. Mozart also wrote the opera as a "singspiel", or an operatic work with spoken dialogue which eliminates the need for recitative which is so much a part of the Italian style at the time. Also unusual is that the cast contains 2 sopranos, 2 tenors and 1 bass -- no mezzo sopranos or baritones. Although he was writing for the court, it is apparent that Mozart's heart was in writing a piece of entertainment that would appeal to both the aristocracy and the public alike. 

 

He set the work in Turkey and used the reliable story vehicle of having European people being plopped down in an exotic foreign land at the hands of exotic foreigners. In this case the Europeans are Spanish and English and the foreign land is Turkey. A Spanish noble lady, Konstanze, and her English maid, Blondchen, and a Spanish man-servant, Pedrillo, were captured by pirates and then sold to the Pasha Selim as slaves. The Pasha has taken a great liking to Konstanze and has been busy "courting" her, although he has already added her to his harem (or Seraglio). The keeper of the harem, Osmin, is a stereotypical side-kick: boisterous, uneducated and a savage fellow with tendencies toward violence and temper tantrums. The Pasha promised that Blondchen is to be his but Blondchen won't have anything to do with that idea -- she's English and free-born and that's that. Osmin is also jealous of the Pasha's new reliance on Pedrillo who is almost a "Figaro-type" character in that he knows how to work a situation. He has somehow gotten letters out of Turkey to his master, Belmonte (who is also Konstanze's betrothed) telling him where they are and begging for him to save them. This is where the story begins.

 

Here, as in many of Mozart's operas, are characters representing the aristocracy and those representing the public; Konstanze and Belmonte like the Count and Countess in "Marriage of Figaro" and Donna Anna and Don Ottavio in "Don Giovanni" are noble-people while Pedrillo and Blondchen are like Figaro and Suzanna in "Marriage of Figaro" and Masetto and Zerlina in "Don Giovanni" are country people. Mozart adds great social dimension to his operas by adding additional social interaction between these two groups and how each group deals with the drama of the situations in the story.

 

Belmonte does in fact come to Pasha Selim's palace and with Pedrillo's help gets past Osmin and into the court of the Pasha impersonating an architect. He and Konstanze meet and a plan is made for Belmonte to rescue the little group. When the time comes, their plan fails and they find themselves at the mercy of an enraged Pasha. The Pasha's anger stems from their attempt to escape but also from knowing that Belmonte is really the son of the Pasha's worst enemy -- a man who is responsible for the loss of the Pasha's homeland, his true love, and his honorable standing. The sentence that Mozart provides for the Pasha to give the escapees is one of the surprises of the opera and gives us great insight into the mind of Mozart. Rather than the Pasha behaving as the stereotypical moorish heathen, powerful and corrupt, Mozart shows us a benign leader of great culture and intelligence, for rather than behave as his worst enemy surely would and sentence the captives to death, he chooses to forgive the little group and let them live.

 

"The Abduction from the Seraglio" is a work of pure Mozart genius and one with extremely challenging vocals. It is a story beautifully balanced in its comic and dramatic views of humankind and is comprised of delightfully amusing scenes, painfully beautiful arias, and rollicking, rhythmic ensembles all twisted together to create a masterful work of entertainment.

 

-- Carol Castel, Delaware Valley Opera