Die Entführung aus dem Serail (K. 384; in English The Abduction from the Seraglio; also known as Il Seraglio) is a opera Singspiel in three acts by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The libretto is by Christoph Friedrich Bretzner with adaptations by Gottlieb Stephanie. The plot concerns the attempt of the hero Belmonte, assisted by his servant Pedrillo, to rescue his beloved Konstanze from the seraglio of the Pasha Selim.
The opera was first produced at the command of the Austrian emperor Joseph II on July 16, 1782 at the Burgtheater in Vienna. The premiere was a success and established the reputation in Vienna of Mozart, who had moved there from his native city of Salzburg the previous year. The opera fulfilled a longtime wish of the emperor, namely to bring to the Burgtheater a successful German opera; previous performances there had been successful only when they were imitations or translations of foreign works.
As a Singspiel, much of the action is carried forward by spoken dialogue, thus the music lacks recitatives and consists entirely of set numbers.
The work is lighthearted and meant for fun, without the deeper character exploration or darker feelings found in Mozart's later operas. It played off a contemporary enthusiasm for the "exotic" culture of Turkey, a nation which had only recently ceased to be a military threat to Austria and thus held a piquant interest for the Viennese. Mozart's opera includes a Westernized version of Turkish music, based very loosely on the Turkish Janissary bands, that he had employed in earlier work; see Turkish music (style). Like most comedies of the time, it utilizes many elements in plot and characterization that were first established by the Commedia dell'Arte.
The characters of the opera also play off Turkish stereotypes, notably Osmin, the Pasha's comically sinister overseer, who expresses his many threats in bass singing. However, the opera cannot be entirely considered as stereotyping of the Turks, since the climax of the plot depends on a rather selfless act on the part of the Pasha.
The music was composed at full stretch and includes some of the composer's most spectacular, complex, and difficult arias; notably, one aria contains the lowest note in Western repertoire, a low D. Much of this is perhaps attributable to the singers for whom Mozart knew he was writing. The first Osmin was Ludwig Fischer, a bass noted for his wide range and skill in leaping over large intervals with ease. Similarly, Mozart wrote of the first Konstanze, Catarina Cavalieri, "I have sacrificed Konstanze’s aria a little to the flexible throat of Mlle. Cavallieri." This is clear in what is probably the opera's most famous aria, the long and elaborate "Martern aller Arten" ("Tortures of all kinds").
A well-known tale concerning the musical difficulty of the work is often told. In the version from the Bartlett's Book of Anecdotes, the story goes like this:
Musicologist Conrad Wilson suggests that this is a mistranslation from the German: "what he really said (if he said it at all) was 'an extraordinary number of notes', which was not quite the same thing."
Actors, singers, instruments
The singers perform with a Classical-era orchestra, augmented with the instruments needed for "Turkish" music: bass drum, cymbals, triangle, and piccolo. Aside from these, the orchestra consists of pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns, trumpets, a set of two timpani, and the usual string section consisting of first and second violins, violas, cellos, and double basses.
Belmonte seeks everywhere his betrothed, Konstanze, who with her English servant Blondchen has fallen into the hands of pirates who sold them to the Pasha Selim (Aria: "Here shall I see you, Konstanze, you my hope.") Osmin, the Pasha's servant, comes to pluck figs in the garden and completely ignores Belmonte's addresses (Aria: "Who a love has found.") Belmonte insists and tries to obtain news of his servant, Pedrillo. (Duet: "Confounded be you and your song.") Osmin is angry. ("Such ragamuffins.") Nevertheless, after the servant leaves, Belmonte meets Pedrillo and they resolve to abduct Konstanze. (Aria: "Konstanze, Konstanze, to see thee again").
Accompanied by a chorus of Janissaries ("Sing to the great Pasha") Selim appears with Konstanze, for whose love he strives in vain. (Aria of Konstanze: "O forgive! Oh, I loved") Upon the recommendation of Pedrillo, the Pasha engages Belmonte as builder, but Osmin refuses him access to the palace. (Terzett: "March! March! March!")
Blondchen repulses the rough lovemaking attempts of Osmin. (Aria: "By tenderness and flattery.") After a duet ("I go, but counsel thee to avoid the villain Pedrillo"), Osmin departs. Konstanze greets Blondchen in distress (Aria: "Sorrow has become my lot"), informing her that Selim demands her love and threatens to use force. (Aria: "This also will I bear.")
When she has gone, Pedrillo comes to Blondchen, who is his sweetheart, and informs her that Belmonte is near and that all is ready for flight. Blondchen is filled with joy. (Aria: "What happiness, what delight.") Pedrillo invites Osmin to drink, hoping that he will become intoxicated. (Aria: "On to the combat" and duet: "Vivat Bacchus!") He succeeds in this plan and gets Osmin out of the way so that Belmonte again sees his beloved Konstanze. (Quartet, Belmonte, Konstanze, Pedrillo, Blondchen: "Oh, Belmonte, oh my life.")
Belmonte and Pedrillo come to the garden with ladders. (Aria, Belmonte: "When the tears of joy do fall"; Romanze, Pedrillo: "Captive in the land of the Moors.") Belmonte succeeds in abducting Konstanze, but when Pedrillo is about to escape with Blondchen, they are caught by Osmin (Aria: "Ho, how I will triumph"), and Belmonte and Konstanze are also brought back by the guard. Selim Pasha, who recognises in Belmonte the son of an enemy, is about to order their death. (Duet: "Oh what a fate, oh soul's misery.") His heart, however, is touched by their sorrow; he forgives, and all are set at liberty - much to the dismay of Osmin, who would prefer to see them all brutally executed. (Finale: "Never will I thy kindness forget.")
The Finnish composer Aulis Sallinen has written an opera called The Palace; it contains characters from Abduction, and uses the plot of Mozart's opera as the starting point of a bizarre fantasy.