A revolution in the structure of opera composition commenced with Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice
which was premiered in 1764. Gluck and his librettist set out to bury the older tradition of opera seria
with its static display arias and preceding recitative, either accompanied on a piano-type instrument or 'dry', that is wholly dependant on the solo singer. They aimed to compose works of real drama and theatre. As the young Mozart embarked on his first operas, with successes such as La finta giardiniera,
premiered in 1774 and, the following year, Il re pastore
, he developed the genre further. Both works were sung in Italian, as was the tradition in Vienna. However, change was afoot with Emperor Joseph II keen to promote the presentation of opera in German singspiel and specifically for presentation at the Burgtheater, the Court Theatre set up by him. The singspiel format involved the use of spoken dialogue, in preference to recitative, as the story moved forward and without eschewing formal arias and duets.
Mozart got into the singspiel mode in the 1779-1780 Salzburg winter with the revision of La finta giardiniera
into Die gärtnerin aus liebe
. He then began the composition of a further singspiel. Perhaps influenced by the contemporary craze in Austria and Prussia for all things Turkish this 'exotic' theme was the basis of the composition. However, after a while and with no prospect of a staging, Mozart abandoned it, leaving it without overture or final dénouement of the second act finale. The incomplete opera came to be called Zaide
The Intendant at the Burgtheater had been impressed with what he had seen of Mozart’s Zaide
and promised him a new libretto on the Turkish theme. This was Die Entführung aus dem Serail.
Mozart was greatly taken by the libretto and composed with enthusiasm. In the work the composer adopts formal musical structures in pursuit of simplicity, not hesitating to include elaborate arias and complex textures in the orchestra. Die Entführung aus dem Serail
was premiered on 16 July 1782 and became Mozart’s first truly outstanding operatic success. Its music is full of invention and vitality as well as having particular vocal challenges for the heroine. Mozart’s concern for the Turkish aspect underlies the whole work and is also reflected in the many additions he had made to the original libretto supplied to him.
In the accompanying booklet notes under the heading The Performance
, the author argues that the librettos for this work and Mozart’s other great singspiel, Die Zauberflöte
, "are weak and confront directors with the problem of how to turn a naïve story into a creditable production". He states that this has led to efforts to tell the story "through numerous different interpretations over the past few decades". That is true with updated and what we call 'regietheater' productions often the norm. One likes them or one does not. My own view is that if a composer looking down on a performance from wherever establishment de repos
he may inhabit, does not recognise his creation without the benefit of his accompanying music, then the producer’s concept has failed. Here, producer Hans Neuenfels aims to retain the story’s naivety and absurdity by splitting the characters, placing an actor at every singer’s side. The actor not only takes over his role for the spoken dialogue, but interacts with the singer and other characters. This seems to involve changes to the dialogue and interactions that the author calls "moments of existential enigma" that, I suggest, Mozart would not have recognised.
Trying hard to put any preconceived prejudices aside I embarked on my viewing. I found the overture to be rather frenetic. As for the doubling, sometimes the singer speaks the words, this is confusing and the additions are presumptuous. The meeting between Belmonte and Pedrillo (CH.6) involving four people is a good example. The video director uses excessive close-ups of faces and pistols are waved about. The singing is adequate with Roland Bracht pleasingly sonorous as Osmin whilst Matthias Link has an uncomfortable edge to his tenor. Otherwise the singing cast is less convincing and more provincial than the kind of casting usually seen in recorded presentations. I cannot say that I enjoyed the experience in any manner but recognise that others might.
Robert J Farr