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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

The Abduction from the Seraglio 

Mozart composed The Abduction front the Seraglio at one of the happiest times in his short life. He was barely twenty-six; he was very much in love with Konstanze Weber; he was engaged to marry her and, in fact, he did so just a little over three weeks after the opera's premiere. In addition, the first name of his fianceе was the name of the heroine of the story of the opera. 

It isn't really so much an opera as what the Viennese of the time called a Singspiel, that is, a gay play with music. All of the action is carried on with spoken dialogue, and the characters break into song only to express strong emotions, seldom to further the story. One important character, the Pasha, does not sing at all but only speaks.

Eighteenth-century Vienna was crazy about Turks. There were Turkish dress styles, Turkish hair-dos, Turkish stories, and a great deal of Turkish music—or what the Viennese thought was Turkish music. Some of the pianos even had tiny drum and bell attachments to make "Turkish effects." The story and music of  The Abduction were part of this Turkish fad. It concerns a high-minded Pasha of the sixteenth century, who captures a beautiful English maiden, Konstanze, and her maid Blondchen (meaning "little blonde"), and also Pedrillo, the servant of a young Spanish nobleman named Belmonte.


Opera in three acts by
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
with libretto in German by
Gottlob Stephanie
based on a play by
Christoph Friedrich Bretzner

Belmonte, a Spanish nobleman          -  Tenor
Konstanze, betrothed to Belmonte    - Soprano
Blonde, Konstanze's English maid      - Soprano
Pedrillo, Belmonte's servant                - Tenor
Osmin, overseer for the Pasha             - Bass
Selim, the Pasha  
Klaas, Chorus of Janissaries

Time; 16th century Place: Turkey

First performance at Vienna, July 16, 1782


Belmonte: Tenor. A Spanish nobleman in love with Constanze. When she is kidnapped, together with her maid, he sets off to find her in Pasha Selim's house. With the help of his servant, he enters the palace and the two ladies are rescued. Arias: Hier soll ich dich denn sehen ("Here I shall see you again"); О wie angstlich, о wie feuring ("Oh how fearfully, oh how fervently"); Wenn der Freude Tranen fliessen ("When tears of joy flow freely"). Created (1782) by Valentin Ademberger.

The Abduction from The Seraglio - Belmonte's aria

Konstanze: Soprano. A Spanish lady, in love with Belmonte. She is kidnapped and held captive, with her maid Blondchen and Belmonte`s valet Pedrillo, in Pasha Selim's house. Тhe Pasha has made overtures to Constanze, who has resisted him, and his harem-keeper, Osmin, has lewd designs on Blondchen. Belmonte attempts to rescue them. Aria: Martern aller arten ('Torture of every kind"). Created (1782) by Katharina Cavalieri.

Maria Grazia Schiavo - Aria Konstanze "Ach, ich liebte" da "Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail" di Mozart

Blondchen: Soprano. The English maid of Constanze. In love with Pedrillo. Captured with her mistress and held in Pasha Selim's house until rescued by their men. Arias: Durch Zartlichkeit und Schmeicheln ("With tenderness and pretty words"); Welche Wonne, welche Lust ("What bliss, what delight"). Created (1782) by Therese Teyber.

Mozart: The Abduction from the Seraglio, No 8 and 9

Pedrillo: Tenor. Servant of Belmonte. In love with Blondchen, whom he attempts to rescue from captivity while his master tries to rescue Blondchen, mistress, Constanze. Created (1782) by Johann Ernst Dauer.

Abduction From the Seraglio (die Entführung aus Serail)
Vivat Bacchus, Bacchus leben! Peter Rose as Osmin and Lynton Atkinson as Pedrillo. 

Osmin: Bass. Keeper of Pasha Selim's harem, he is a bloodthirsty character. He has fallen in love with Blondclhen, who has been captured together with her mistress and is being held in the harem. When her true lover Реdrillо, and his master Belmonte, attempt to enter the harem, they have to drug Osmin to enable them to rescue their ladies. Before they manage to leave, Osmin recovers and again prevents their escape. Created (1782) by Ludwig Fischer.

Brannigan - Osmin's Aria - Abduction from the Seraglio

Selim, Pasha: Spoken role. Owner of the palace in which Constanze and Blondchen are held captive. An apparently severe man, he shows his softer side by allowing both ladies to depart with their lovers, much to the annoyance of Osmin, keeper of the Pasha's harem, who would like Blondchen for himself. Created (1782) by Dominik Jautz.

Announcement for the premiere at the Burgtheater



The overture, a familiar piece in concert halls, reflects the contemporary Turkish fad: it makes prominent use of both tiie triangle and the bass drum. Gay in mood, as the overture to any Singspiel should be, it offers a moment of sweet sadness by including, in a minor key, the young hero`s opening aria.

Act I

Without waiting for a conclusion to the overture, the curtain rises on Belmonte, thе noble young Spanish hero of the story. He has leached a seaside plaza outside Ae palace of the Pasha, and he sings of bis hope of finding Konstanze there (Hier soll ich dich denn sehen, Konstanze - "Here may I hope to find you, Konstanze"). An unpleasant old fellow named Osmin appears. He is picking figs in the garden and singing a ditty about unreliable sweethearts (Wer ein Liebschen hat gefunden - "Whoever has found a sweetheart"). Now, Osmin is the Pasha's overseer, and when Belmonte asks about his friend Pedrillo, he receives a very scurvy welcome. Osmin, it seems, is in love with Blondchen, but so is Pedrillo, and the girl favors the young Spaniard. When Osmin has disappeared, Pedrillo himself comes out and tells his old master that he is a favorite of the Pasha. Immediately they begin to scheme to get the two girls away.

A chorus of Janissaries, welcoming the Pasha, interrupts them, and a scene between the Pasha and the lovely Konstanze tells us how things are going. The high-minded Turk loves the lady, but he will not force bis suit on her. She, for her part, still pines for her old love, Belmonte, and frankly tells her captor so. It is a fine, brilliant coloratura aria she has there (Ach, ich liebte—"Ah, I was in love"). When she has left, Pedrillo introduces Belmonte to the Pasha as a visiting architect. The Pasha is most cordial, but when be has left, old Osmin tries to keep the two friends from entering the palaсе. An amusing trio follows (Marsch, marsch, marsch-"March!"); and as the act ends, the two men push Osmin aside and rush in.

An illustration of the women's quarters in a Seraglio, John Frederick Lewis, 1873

Act II

So far we have not met the most engaging lady in the cast —Blondchen; but in the very opening of Act II, which takes place within the palace, she really tells old Osmin off. English girls can`t be ordered around, she says, not even in Turkey; and before she gets rid of him, she offers to scratch the fellow`s eyes out and to get him beaten. It's quite a scene. But Konstanze is more tragically disposed. Belmonte bas (she thinks) failed to rescue her, and now the Pasha demands that she love him tomorrow. This state of affairs she reveals to Blondchen in the aria Durch Zärtlichkeit—"Through tenderness.” The Pasha enters at this point and demands her love at once-even threatening torture. This is the occasion for her wonderful aria of defiance called Martern aller Arten—"All kinds of martyrs.” Then there follows a scene between little Blondchen and Pedrillo. He tells his girl the great news: Belmonte has arrived. In fact, he is in the palace as an architect he has a ship anchored in the bay; and they will all elope at midnightl As for the ever-suspicious Osmin, he will have to be taken care ot by a well-prepared drink.

Almost at once Pedrillo has his chance. Osmin comes in and it does not take a long argument for Pedrillo to overcome his Mohammedan scruples about alcohol. The old fellow drinks himself silly and is dragged оff sound asleep. The act ends with a perfectly delightful quartet by the four lovers. The Spanish men are at first a little suspicious about the faithfulness of the two girls; but they are quickly convinced, and the plans to elope that night are confirmed.


Scene 1 begins at midnight. Belmonte and Pedrillo, outside the palace, are ready to abduct Konstanze and Blondchen in the approved romantic fashion—that is, with ladders and serenades. They begin properly enough, and Belmonte gets away with his Konstanze. Unfortunately, it is a rather noisy business, and the jealous Osmin recovers from his drunken stupor just in time to catch the runaways. They are all brought in under guard; the Pasha is summoned; and the culprits are condemned to an immediate and hideous death. Yet there is time for a lovely duet, of farewell and of courage, between Belmonte and Konstanze, and also for a rather fiendish aria of revenge by Osmin (Hal wie will ich triumphiren—"Ha! how I shall triumph o’er you”.

Scene 2  Then,within the palace, comes the surprise ending. It turns out that Belmonte’s father had been the Pasha’s worst enemy and bad treated him most harshly. The high- minded Turk wishes to teach the Europeans a lesson in forbearance. He pardons Belmonte and presents him with his own beloved Konstanze, and he forgives Pedrillo and Blondchen even over the protests of Osmin. Naturally, everyone except Osmin is thoroughly delighted, and the opera ends with a concerted number in which all join in praising the Selim Pasha.


Mozart received the libretto from Stephanie on 29 July 1781. He had few opportunities to compose professionally during the summer and he set to work on the libretto at a very rapid pace, finishing three major numbers in just two days. A letter to his father Leopold indicates he was very excited about the prospect of having his opera performed in Vienna, and worked enthusiastically on his project.

At first Mozart thought he needed to finish his opera in only two months, because tentative plans were made to perform it at the September visit of the Russian Grand Duke Paul (son of Catherine the Great and heir to the Russian throne). However, it was ultimately decided to perform operas by Gluck instead, giving Mozart more time.

It was around this time that Mozart articulated his views about the role of the composer and the librettist in the preparation of an opera. He wrote to his father (13 October 1781):

I would say that in an opera the poetry must be altogether the obedient daughter of the music. Why are Italian comic operas popular everywhere – in spite of the miserable libretti? … Because the music reigns supreme, and when one listens to it all else is forgotten. An opera is sure of success when the plot is well worked out, the words written solely for the music and not shoved in here and there to suit some miserable rhyme ... The best thing of all is when a good composer, who understands the stage and is talented enough to make sound suggestions, meets an able poet, that true phoenix; in that case, no fears need be entertained as to the applause – even of the ignorant.

It would seem that something along these lines did happen—that is, Mozart decided to play a major role in the shaping of the libretto, insisting that Stephanie make changes for dramatic and musical effect.
On 26 September Mozart wrote:


Now comes the rub! The first act was finished more than three weeks ago, as was also one aria in act 2 and the drunken duet ["Vivat Bacchus", act 2] ... But I cannot compose any more, because the whole story is being altered – and, to tell the truth, at my own request. At the beginning of act 3 there is a charming quintet or rather finale, but I would prefer to have it at the end of act 2. In order to make this practicable, great changes must be made, in fact an entirely new plot must be introduced – and Stephanie is up to his neck in other work. So we must have a little patience.

Mozart was evidently quite pleased to have in Stephanie a librettist who would listen to him. The September 26 letter also says:

Everyone abuses Stephanie. It may be the case he is only friendly to my face. But after all he is preparing the libretto for me – and, what is more, exactly as I want it – and by Heaven, I don't ask anything more of him.

With the delays for rewriting, the composition took several more months. The premiere took place on 16 July 1782, at the Burgtheater in Vienna.

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