Die Entführung aus dem Serail, Opera by W. A. Mozart
When Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart arrived in Vienna in 1781, he was hungry for work and success. Die Entführung aus dem Serail provided both. At its premiere on 16 July 1782 at the Burgtheater, it garnered remarkable popular support. Emperor Joseph II, who had commissioned the work for the Nationalsingspiel, his pet project, famously exclaimed, “Too beautiful for our ears – and a whole lot of notes, dear Mozart!” Indeed, the score stands out with remarkable complexity and rich musical tapestry, but that does not make it inaccessible or forbidding in the least. The comedy opera carries the well-known and loved free-flowing melodies that define Mozart’s operatic style, and it has been taking audiences on exotic journeys ever since its bombastic premiere.
In the early 1780s, Austria-Hungary’s Emperor Joseph II was working hard to popularise German-language opera and break the Italian monopoly over the genre. To this end, he created the ‘National Singspiel’ company, which was active for about five years and mostly performed translations. Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail, or ‘The Abduction from the Seraglio’ in English, was to be its biggest original success. The libretto was penned by the Nationalsingspiel’s own inspector Gottlieb Stephanie, whom Mozart lobbied hard for the commission. In the composition process, he pushed the music forward as a central narrative force and focused on crafting exciting and memorable vocal lines because he believed this to be the winning formula with audiences. Experience certainly proved him right.
Die Entführung aus dem Serail tells the story of the lovers Belmonte and Constanze who are engaged to be married, but when pirates attack her ship, the young lady is sold to Pasha Selim and is forced to join his harem. Belmonte’s servant Pedrillo infiltrates the Pasha’s court and the two men start plotting a daring escape plan that will reunite the betrothed. The laughs and the happy ending are all but guaranteed, and yet there are enough exciting twists and turns in the action to keep audiences at Volksoper Wien hanging on every note.