Die Entführung aus dem Serail (The Abduction from the Seraglio)

Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serial was Mozart’s first opera to be performed in Vienna and the composer’s first Singspiel. A Singspiel is a musical form popular in Germany during the 18th century; it includes spoken dialogue interspersed with songs. Mozart entices his audience from the title, by provoking a plot with an obstacle straight away. But what is a Seraglio? What is the translation of das Serail? A Seraglio is the private living quarters used by the women (wives and concubines) in an Ottoman palace, similar to the term Harem. These rooms are often not accessible to visiting males, so how does one gain access in order to kidnap? I sense a heist coming on!

From The Metropolitan Opera House Production Of Die Entführung aus dem Serail

Spoiler Alert! Here is a breakdown of the synopsis, (a summary of what happens in the story).

Act One

Belmonte arrives at Pasha Selim’s palace on the coast of Turkey in search of his kidnapped love, Konstanze. He is chased away by Osmin, Selim’s vizier, but Belmonte happens to meet his servant, Pedrillo, who had also been taken as a hostage. Pedrillo reports that Konstanze and her maid, Blonde are both held captive inside the palace. He also learns that Selim has expressed his romantic desires for Konstanze but she keeps rejecting his advances.  Belmonte and Pedrillo hatch a plan to escape the palace with Konstanze and Blonde by boat. Pedrillo manages to introduce Belmonte to Selim under the guise of a promising young architect.

Act Two

Blonde has been given to Osmin as a gift from his Master, and she skillfully avoids his blundering affections and explains that a European woman should be treated with tenderness and flattery. Konstanze laments her fate until Pedrillo tells her of Belmonte’s escape plan, which is set in motion when Pedrillo distracts the watchful eye of Osmin by encouraging him to fall into a drunken state.

From The Glyndebourne Production Of Die Entführung aus dem Serail

Act Three

Just as the women begin to escape, Osmin awakens from his drunken spell and the four escapees are captured and threatened with a terrible punishment. Pasha Selim is all the more furious when he learns that Belmonte’s father is his sworn enemy, who exiled him from his own country. BUT he decides to repay evil with good and frees Konstanze, Belmonte, Pedrillo and Blonde. All celebrate but Osmin.

I find the plot twist at the end very interesting because, in the late 18th century, there was a great vogue in European music to draw inspiration from Turkish culture so that Europeans could view their once-threatening enemies in a different light. Mozart’s opera transcended the genre by depicting the Pasha Selim as humane and benevolent.

From The Glyndebourne Production Of Die Entführung aus dem Serail

You can hear how Mozart was inspired by Turkish military band music in the opera’s overture “through the use of shrill winds, drums and cymbals: exaggerated first beats; and deliberately simple harmonies, melodies, and textures.” (Burkholder, J. P., Grout, D. J., & Palisca, C. V. (2009). A history of western music (8th ed.). WW Norton.)

Overture from Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail

Similar allusions can be found in Haydn’s “Military” Symphony No. 100, premiered in London in 1794. It also featured elements of “Turkish exoticism” through a percussion squadron of triangles, crash cymbals, and a bass drum.

Haydn’s No.100 symphony

Fun Fact, it may be no coincidence that Mozart named one of the roles Konstanze. A month after the opera’s premiere in July 1782, Mozart married his beloved Constanze Weber on 4th August 1782.

21 thoughts on “Die Entführung aus dem Serail (The Abduction from the Seraglio)

  1. Very interesting and entertaining explanation of the opera, Charlotte. Your picture of the Met Opera’s production is certainly not a picture of the Met Opera on Tour’ production I worked back in late 60’s. (Yes, there was cameras and publicity photos back in those days.)

    1. OOo I’d love to see any photos you have of that Don, perhaps a post topic 🙂
      Best wishes
      Charlotte

      1. Sadly, Charlotte, I don’t have any pictures of that production or of any productions. Taking pictures of sets, customs, performers were strictly taboo in those days.

  2. I would love to watch this, Charlotte! The only opera I’ve seen was The Phantom Of The Opera at the Fox Theater in Detroit years ago, great fun! I love the first photo, your smile is so beautiful! ❤️🌹🇬🇧

  3. I was wondering if that name, Konstanze, had anything to do with Constanze. Is this synopsis a hint of things to come or just a little “joy in Mozart”?

  4. Great music, thank you Charlotte!
    Your review of Die Entführung aus dem Serail is quite educational and fascinating.
    It’s always a special moment when I visit here.
    The opening shot is FAB!

    xx

    Sent a mail drawing… Romania Gown.

  5. One year when I lived in Sydney I subscribed to the symphony orchestra and I remember the curator (?) commenting that he couldn’t get away with devising a programme that didn’t feature at least one Mozart item. His music is so well loved. I enjoyed listening to both pieces as I caught up with emails. And that background history on the attitude towards the Ottomans at the time was gold for a history buff such as myself.

  6. What an interesting and provocative opera, Charlotte. Thanks for the great descriptions and photos. I’m familiar with the Mozart piece but hadn’t known of the connection.Right now I am introducing my two year old grandson to Back’s Brandenburg Concertos. And he can identify them as Bach! He likes the horns!

  7. “Entführung”. German has such a particular music. It must be fun to sing in German then sing in Italian. Even the same words have a music of their own.
    Viel dank, Charlotte.

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