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