Major Operas | Die Entführung aus dem Serail by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart | Classical Era

The Abduction from the Seraglio

Premiered on 16 July 1782, Die Entführung aus dem Serail quickly became his most popular work and sealed the composer’s operatic reputation in German-speaking lands. The Viennese expected plenty of laughs from a Singspiel. Mozart obliged with his first great comic creation: the ‘foolish, coarse and spiteful’ (Mozart’s words) harem overseer Osmin, a larger-than-life compound of sullen irascibility, prejudice, lechery and (in his show-stopping final aria ‘Ha, wie will ich triumphieren’) gloating sadism.

Mozart exploited, to wonderfully grotesque effect, the subterranean notes of the original Osmin, Johann Ludwig Fischer. Through his music, the jangling, crashing Turkish style of the overture becomes a unifying feature of the whole opera, not least in the rollicking drinking duet ‘Vivat Bacchus’ – an instant hit in Vienna.

Die Entführung, though, is no mere oriental romp, and the music for Belmonte and Konstanze has a power, poignancy and lyrical beauty unprecedented in a Singspiel. As in Idomeneo, the sheer richness of musical invention occasionally threatens the drama, above all in the gargantuan introduction to Konstanze’s aria of heroic defiance, ‘Martern aller Arten’ – magnificent as music, but famous as a producer’s nightmare.

Composed: 1781–82
Premiered: 1782, Vienna
Libretto by Johann Gottlieb Stephanie the younger, after Christoph Friedrich Bretzner

Act I

The beautiful Konstanze, her maid Blonde and Pedrillo, the servant of Belmonte, Konstanze’s betrothed, have been bought by Pasha Selim from pirates. Konstanze lives in the Pasha’s palace as his favourite and Pedrillo works as his gardener, while Blonde has been given as a gift to Osmin, the Pasha’s overseer.

Belmonte has arrived at the seaside near the palace in search of Konstanze and the others. He encounters Osmin, who confirms that he is in the right place but becomes angry when Belmonte mentions Pedrillo; Osmin is in love with Blonde and Pedrillo is his rival for her affections. Belmonte then meets Pedrillo, who tells him that he is one of the Pasha’s favourites and that, although the Pasha loves Konstanze, he will not force his affections on her. The two men devise a plan to rescue their loves and escape.

There is a chorus of Turkish guards and Belmonte, concealed, watches as Konstanze arrives with the Pasha. He asks her why she cannot accept his love and she explains to him that she is still in love with Belmonte. She then leaves, and Pedrillo takes the opportunity to introduce Belmonte to the Pasha, as a visiting architect. The Pasha is welcoming but then Osmin tries to deny the two men access to the castle; outwitting him, they go inside.

Act II

In the garden, Blonde rejects Osmin’s advances, confusing him with her fiery intelligence and promising him pain and violence if he does not leave her alone. Meanwhile, Konstanze laments her fate. Why has Belmonte not come to rescue her? The Pasha, beginning to grow impatient, tries to convince Konstanze to marry him. She refuses and, when threatened with torture, says...

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