Mozart's 'The Abduction from the Seraglio'
"Too many notes. Just cut a few and it will be perfect." You may remember those "cutting" words which the tin-eared Emperor presented to Mozart in the movie Amadeus. Reportedly, Joseph II actually did offer that opinion in response to Mozart's The Abduction from the Seraglio, the opera he commissioned from the 26-year-old composer in 1782.
What Mozart put on the stage for the Emperor was indeed something new, as the Emperor conceded. The poet Goethe said that Abduction "knocked everything else sideways."
Anything Turkish was in style at the time, and true to the trend, Mozart sets Abduction in a Turkish harem and flavors the music with extra percussion, evoking the military Janissary bands of Turkey (especially in the rollicking overture).
But Abduction was far more than just trendy and Turkish. The depth of Mozart's music was constantly increasing during this period. In letters to his father he wrote about trying to capture the very heartbeats of emotion in his characters.
Abduction is the crazy story of two men rescuing their lovers from a Pasha's harem, but the way Mozart blends high comedy with touching tragedy signals his new maturity as an opera composer.
The Act II quartet, sung by the two principal couples, surely impressed those first audiences, and it still impresses today. It's almost a miniature opera within itself, beginning and ending with the joy of the lovers' reconciliation, yet with a melancholic middle section in which the music palpably expresses the personal doubts swirling within the characters' outward happiness.
Like Mozart's final opera, The Magic Flute, The Abduction from the Seraglio is written in the German Singspiel style, featuring dialogue that is not sung but spoken. Various amounts of dialogue are used (even altered or updated) depending on the production.
This production of Mozart's Abduction comes from the 2006 Salzburg Festival, the annual arts and music spectacle set in the composer's hometown of Salzburg, Austria. It's performed in the newly renovated hall that now bears the name "Haus fur Mozart."
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