Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart composed “Die Entführung aus dem Serail” in 1782. The work was sponsored by the Nationalsingspiel which was set up by the Austrian Emperor Joseph II in order to create a repertoire of works performed in the German language (as opposed to Italian opera which was hugely popular in Vienna). “Die Entführung aus dem Serail” was considered an outstanding success in the genre of Singspiel, literally a singing play, which was a popular and often highlycomedic entertainment. The opera was inspired by a contemporary interest in the exotic culture of the Ottoman Empire, and Turkey had only recently ceased to be a military threat to Austria, so no doubt there were some residual jibes being made and send ups of stereotypes of Turkish despotism. As with much comedy of the time the situations and types relate back to the roots of commedia dell’arte.
“Die Entführung aus dem Serail”, translated as “The Abduction from the Seraglio”was a precursor to Mozart’s greatest works and marks an important bridge into the more sophisticated characterizations and situations which he developed later with librettist Lorenzo da Ponte. It was composed fours years before “Le Nozze di Figaro” and nine years before his most famous Singspiel “Die Zauberflöte.”
Internationally there has recently been a spate of quite serious interpretations of “Die Entführung” – complete with Isis style Osmins and Pasha Selim speaking Kurdish, nude scenes, sex slavery etc. There has been no professional production in Australia for over 20 years. Whilst still honouring the serious aspects to the relationships of Belmonte, Konstanze and the Pasha Selim; given the current world climate and the rather simplistic reading of the nature of Islam within the work I have chosen not to dwell deeply upon the serious and take what I believe was considered to be a comic adventure in “an exotic location” and adapt it into the style of all those British comic adventures that were hugely popular in the 1970’s: James Bond movies, The Persuaders, The Saint….. A time when political correctness was not much of a consideration, but rescues of glamorous women often kidnapped by quite eccentric and wealthy villains seemed commonplace! I was unashamedly looking for a new context that would play to the spirit of this Singspiel and re-energise the comedy.
Our Belmonte is not a Spanish nobleman but rather a member of the British landed artistocracy who dabbles in heroics (not unlike Roger Moore’s character in The Persuaders), who is engaged to Konstanze, a fabulously glamorous German diva who has a British PA named Blonde. Belmonte’s sidekick “Pedrillo” Peters (so named because of this fabulous seventies moustache) has been kidnapped along with the women by the mysterious billionaire Pasha Selim, a man of exquisite taste and dubious business practices. His palace is guarded by an ex militia tough guy (though not as tough as he looks) Osmin. We have had an enormous amount of fun creating this world and hope you enjoy it along with some of the most sublime of Mozart’s compositions. As with all Melbourne Opera productions, we will perform “The Abduction from the Seraglio” in English but making the occasional nod to Joseph II wishes there will be some sections sung in German.