This year's season of Metropolitan Opera broadcasts on Classical 90.5 concludes at 10:00 a.m. this Saturday with a performance of Die Entführung aus dem Serail (The Abduction from the Seraglio) by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The text was written by Christoph Friedrich Bretzner, a businessman and successful librettist, with adaptations by Johann Gottlieb Stephanie, head of the Nationalsingspiel, Vienna’s German opera company.
Die Entführung aus dem Serail was written at the order of the Austrian Emperor Joseph II. For source material, Mozart turned to a popular farce of his day about two pairs of European lovers, one noble and the other their servants, who are trying to escape from the harem of a Turkish pasha and his amusingly sleazy overseer. The work uses spoken dialogue and separate musical numbers in the form of a Singspiel, or “sung play.”
The story is set in the Turkish Empire in the 1700s, at a time when the centuries-old Turkish military threat to Christian Europe was waning and comedy on the subject of the clash of these two cultures became viable. While there is some humor at the expense of the Turks, just as much is aimed at the foibles of the Europeans. The clemency of the pasha in the final scene of the opera can be seen as a gentle rebuke to the original audience’s own culture, an idea characteristic of the Enlightenment.
The exotic hue of some of the numbers in Entführung is not an authentic representation of Turkish music but rather a European imagining of foreign sounds. Mozart uses some real Turkish instruments, including the bass drum, triangle, and cymbals, which would eventually become standard for European orchestras. He creates contrasting musical personalities for each of the lead characters, which heightens the effect of their individual solos. In Act II, for example, three vastly different soprano arias are juxtaposed, including Konstanze’s “Martern aller Arten,” an extended and astonishingly challenging vocal set piece that both references and parodies the old opera seria tradition.
The performance will run approximately three hours and thirty minutes. James Levine conducts.