Die Entführung aus dem Serail

Die Entführung aus dem Serail
Opera by W. A. Mozart

Announcement for the premiere at the Burgtheater
Librettist Christoph Friedrich Bretzner
Language German
Premiere 16 July 1782 (1782-07-16)
Burgtheater, Vienna

Die Entführung aus dem Serail (K. 384; The Abduction from the Seraglio; also known as Il Seraglio) is an opera Singspiel in three acts by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The German 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 Pasha Selim. The work premiered on 16 July 1782 at the Vienna Burgtheater, with the composer conducting.


The company that first sponsored the opera was the Nationalsingspiel ("national Singspiel"), a pet project (1778–1783) of the Austrian emperor Joseph II. The Emperor had set up the company to perform works in the German language (as opposed to the Italian opera style widely popular in Vienna). This project was ultimately given up as a failure, but along the way it produced a number of successes, mostly a series of translated works. Mozart's opera emerged as its outstanding original success.[1]

The inspector of the Nationalsingspiel was Gottlieb Stephanie.[2] When the 25-year-old Mozart arrived in Vienna in 1781, seeking professional opportunity, one of the first tasks to which he addressed himself was to become acquainted with Stephanie and lobby him for an opera commission. To this end, he brought a copy of his earlier opera Zaide and showed it to Stephanie, who was duly impressed. Mozart also made a strong impression on the manager of the theater, Count Franz Xaver Orsini-Rosenberg, when in the home of Mozart's friend and patroness Maria Wilhelmine Thun the Count heard him play excerpts from his opera Idomeneo, premiered with great success the previous year in Munich.[2] With this backing, it was agreed that Stephanie would find appropriate material and prepare a libretto for Mozart. Stephanie complied by preparing an altered version of an earlier work Belmont und Constanze, oder Die Entführung aus dem Serail without attributing or seeking permission from its original author Christoph Friedrich Bretzner. Bretzner later complained loudly and publicly about the theft.[3]


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.[4]

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;[5] in that case, no fears need be entertained as to the applause – even of the ignorant.[6]

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.[7]

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.[8]

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


Die Entführung aus dem Serail is in the genre of "Singspiel", thus the music lacks recitatives and consists entirely of set numbers. As Hughes notes, the action is mostly carried forward by the spoken dialogue, so the libretto gave Mozart little opportunity to display an achievement for which his later operas are celebrated, namely the construction of scenes in which the plot is both reflected in and driven forward by the music.[9]

Die Entführung is lighthearted and frequently comic, with little of the deep character exploration or darker feelings found in Mozart's later operas.[10] The opera was inspired by a contemporary interest in the perceived "exotic" culture of the Ottoman Empire, a nation which had only recently ceased to be a military threat to Austria.[11][12] Mozart's opera includes a Westernized version of Turkish music, based very loosely on the Turkish Janissary band music.

Certain aspects of the opera conform to an eighteenth-century European view of orientalism. The Pasha's titular harem, for example, reprised themes of sexual libertinage. And the comically sinister overseer, Osmin, is a send-up of earlier stereotypes of Turkish despotism.[13] However, the opera also defies the stereotype of despotic Turkish culture, since its climax entails a selfless act of forgiveness on the part of the Pasha.[14]

The music includes some of the composer's most spectacular and difficult arias. Osmin's act 3 aria "O, wie will ich triumphieren" includes characteristic 18th century coloratura passage work, and twice goes down to a low D (D2), one of the lowest notes demanded of any voice in opera.[15] Perhaps the most famous aria in the opera is the long and elaborate "Martern aller Arten" ("Tortures of all kinds") for Konstanze, an outstanding challenge for sopranos. Konstanze sings in a kind of sinfonia concertante with four solo players from the orchestra; the strikingly long orchestral introduction, without stage action, also poses problems for stage directors.[16]

The virtuosity of these roles is perhaps attributable to the fact that when he took up the task of composing the opera, Mozart already knew the outstanding reputations of the singers for whom he was writing, and he tailored the arias to their strengths.[2] 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, Caterina Cavalieri, "I have sacrificed Konstanze's aria a little to the flexible throat of Mlle. Cavalieri."


Mozart (at center) attended a performance of his own opera Die Entführung aus dem Serail while visiting Berlin in 1789. Franz Frankenberg performed the role of Osmin, Friedrich Ernst Wilhelm Greibe played Pedrillo.[17]

The opera was a huge success. The first two performances brought in the large sum of 1200 florins, three times what Mozart's salary had been for his old job in Salzburg.[18] The work was repeatedly performed in Vienna during Mozart's lifetime,[19] and throughout German-speaking Europe.[20] In 1787, Goethe wrote (concerning his own efforts as a librettist):

All our endeavour ... to confine ourselves to what is simple and limited was lost when Mozart appeared. Die Entführung aus dem Serail conquered all, and our own carefully written piece has never been so much as mentioned in theater circles.[21]

Although the opera greatly raised Mozart's standing with the public as a composer, it did not make him rich: he was paid a flat fee of 100 Imperial ducats (about 450 florins) for his work, and made no profits from the many subsequent performances.[22]

The opera reached Paris in November 1801, when Frédéric Blasius conducted Ellmenreich's company in performances at the Théâtre de la Gaîté.[23]

This opera is firmly ensconced in the repertoire today. According to Operabase.com, in the 2012/13 season it ranked 29th among operas in performance frequency. As of January 2012, at least 52 complete recordings were in circulation: 18 videos, 17 studio audio recordings, and at least 17 live audio recordings.

The "too many notes" tale

The complexity of Mozart's work noted by Goethe also plays a role in a well-known tale about the opera which appeared in the early (1798) biography of Mozart by Franz Xaver Niemetschek. In the version of the anecdote printed in Bartlett's Book of Anecdotes, a reference work, the story is told like this:

The Emperor Joseph II commissioned the creation of The Abduction from the Seraglio, but when he heard it, he complained to Mozart, "That is too fine for my ears – there are too many notes." Mozart replied, "There are just as many notes as there should be."[24]

The authenticity of this story is not accepted by all scholars.[25] Moreover, the version given by the Bartlett reference (and many other places) includes a translation of the original German that is dubious. The original reads as follows:[26]

Zu schön für unsere Ohren, und gewaltig viel Noten, lieber Mozart!

"Too many notes" is not a plausible translation of the German phrase "gewaltig viel Noten". Mautner (1956:33), translating Niemetschek, renders this as "an extraordinary number of notes", while Branscombe (2006) translates it simply as "very many notes".[27] The anecdote, which is often repeated, may have unfairly given the Emperor a bad reputation, concerning both his own musical abilities and his appreciation and support of Mozart. For defense of Joseph from such criticisms, see Beales (2006).[28]


Role Voice type Premiere cast, 16 July 1782
(Conductor: W. A. Mozart)
Belmonte, a Spanish nobleman tenor Valentin Adamberger
Konstanze, betrothed to Belmonte soprano Caterina Cavalieri
Blonde,[29] Konstanze's English maid soprano Theresia Teyber
Pedrillo, Belmonte's servant tenor Johann Ernst Dauer
Osmin, overseer for the Pasha bass Ludwig Fischer
Bassa Selim, the Pasha spoken role Dominik Jautz
Klaas spoken role
Chorus of Janissaries


The singers perform with a Classical-era orchestra: pairs of flutes (2nd doubling piccolo), oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns, trumpets, a set of two timpani, and strings. They are augmented with the instruments needed for "Turkish" music: bass drum, cymbals, triangle, and piccolo. The aria, "Traurigkeit ward mir zum Lose", is augmented by basset horn. The part now played on a piccolo was meant for a recorder pitched in G.

The orchestra for the premiere included a number of eminent musicians of the day: first cellist Joseph Franz Weigl, first oboist Josef Triebensee, second horn Joseph Leutgeb, and the clarinettist brothers Anton and Johann Stadler. In the first violin section was Franz de Paula Hofer, who later became Mozart's brother-in-law.[30] The four musicians who played the "Turkish" instruments remain anonymous, though it is known that they were recruited for this purpose by one Franz Tyron, Kapellmeister of the Austrian Second Field Artillery Regiment.[31]


Place: the country house of the Pasha (German "Bassa"), in Turkey
Time: 16th century[32]

Act 1

Belmonte enters, looking for his betrothed, Konstanze, who with her English servant Blonde has fallen into the hands of pirates and been sold to Pasha Selim (Aria: "Hier soll ich dich denn sehen" – "Here surely I must find her").[33] Osmin, the Pasha's bad-tempered servant, comes to pluck figs in the garden and completely ignores Belmonte's questions (Aria: "Wer ein Liebchen hat gefunden" – "You may think, you've found a maiden"). Belmonte tries to obtain news of his servant, Pedrillo, who has been captured with the women and is serving as a servant in the Pasha's palace. Osmin replies with insults and abuse (Duet: "Verwünscht seist du samt deinem Liede!" – "The devil take you and your song, sir"). Belmonte leaves in disgust. Pedrillo enters and Osmin rages at him, vowing to get him tortured and killed in many different ways (Aria: "Solche hergelaufne Laffen" – "These young men who go a-spying"). Osmin leaves and Belmonte enters and happily reunites with Pedrillo. Together they resolve to rescue Konstanze and Pedrillo's fiancée, Blonde, who is Konstanze's servant (Aria: "Konstanze, Konstanze, dich wiederzusehen … O wie ängstlich" – "Konstanze, Konstanze, to see thee again … Oh what trembling").

Accompanied by a chorus of Janissaries ("Singt dem großen Bassa Lieder" – "Sing to the mighty Pasha Selim"), Pasha Selim appears with Konstanze, for whose love he strives in vain (Aria of Konstanze: "Ach ich liebte" – "How I loved him"). Pedrillo tricks the Pasha into hiring Belmonte as an architect. When Belmonte and Pedrillo try to enter the palace, Osmin bars their way, but they hurry past him anyway (Terzett: "Marsch! Marsch! Marsch! Trollt euch fort!" – "March! March! March! Clear off!").

Act 2

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

Blonde repulses the rough lovemaking attempts of Osmin (Aria: "Durch Zärtlichkeit und Schmeicheln" – "With smiles and kind caresses"), and threatens to scratch out his eyes. After a duet ("Ich gehe, doch rate ich dir" – "I'm going, but mark what I say"), Osmin departs. Konstanze greets Blonde in distress (Aria: "Welcher Wechsel herrscht in meiner Seele … Traurigkeit ward mir zum Lose" – "Oh what sorrow overwhelms my spirit … Endless grief tortures my spirit"). The Pasha demands her love and threatens to use force (Aria: "Martern aller Arten" – "Tortures unrelenting.")

When she has gone, Pedrillo comes to Blonde, who is his sweetheart, and informs her that Belmonte has come and is planning to rescue them. Blonde is filled with joy. (Aria: "Welche Wonne, welche Lust" – "Oh, the happy, happy day"). Pedrillo invites Osmin to drink, hoping that he will become intoxicated (Aria: "Frisch zum Kampfe" – "Now Pedrillo, now for battle!"; Duet: "Vivat Bacchus! Bacchus lebe!" – "Here's to Bacchus, long live Bacchus"). When Osmin has drunk himself into a stupor, the two couples reunite (Quartet, Belmonte, Konstanze, Pedrillo, Blonde: "Ach Belmonte! Ach, mein Leben" – "Ah, Belmonte, ah my dear one!"). Belmonte and Pedrillo both question anxiously whether their respective fiancees have remained faithful during their forced separation; to their delight the women respond with indignation and dismay. They forgive the offensive questions and the curtain falls.

Act 3

Belmonte and Pedrillo come to the garden with ladders (Aria, Belmonte: "Ich baue ganz auf deine Stärke" – "Love, only love, can now direct me"; Romanze, Pedrillo: "In Mohrenland gefangen war" – "In Moorish lands a maiden fair"). However, they and the women are caught by Osmin, who rouses the castle (Aria: "Ha, wie will ich triumphieren" – "My triumphant hour's approaching"). Belmonte pleads for their lives and tells Pasha Selim that his father is a Spanish Grandee and Governor of Oran, named Lostados, who will pay a generous ransom. Unfortunately, Pasha Selim and Lostados are long-standing enemies. The Pasha rejoices in the opportunity to kill his enemy's son. He leaves Belmonte and Konstanze to bid each other a last farewell (Duet: "Welch ein Geschick! O Qual der Seele" – "What dreadful fate conspires against us"), but when he returns, he decides he can make a better point against Lostados by releasing Belmonte and his friends. All are set at liberty – much to the dismay of Osmin, who would prefer to see them all brutally executed (Finale: "Nie werd' ich deine Huld verkennen" – "Your noble mercy passes measure").



The Finnish composer Aulis Sallinen wrote an opera called The Palace (first performed 1995); it contains characters whose names are adapted from Abduction and loosely uses elements of the plot of Mozart's opera as the starting point of a satirical fantasy.

Music professor, composer, and humorist Peter Schickele claims to have "discovered" P. D. Q. Bach's The Abduction of Figaro, a pastiche of the Entführung and Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro.



  1. Manning 1982
  2. 1 2 3 Abert 2007, 620
  3. Deutsch 1965
  4. Braunbehrens 1990, 61
  5. By this Mozart meant something exceedingly rare. The same metaphor is used in the first scene of Mozart's later opera Così fan tutte.
  6. Quoted in Braunbehrens 1990, 61–62
  7. Quoted in Braunbehrens 1990, 77–78
  8. Quoted in Braunbehrens 1990, 62
  9. Hughes, Spike (1972:20)
  10. See, for example, Manning 1982
  11. Braunbehrens (1990, 74). Braunbehrens suggests that "preparations had just begun to celebrate" the centennial of lifting of the Turkish Siege of Vienna in 1683. Later in the decade, Austria was again at war with Turkey (see Austro–Turkish War (1787–1791)) but this was a war of aggression, not defense.
  12. Two contemporary works also showing the contemporary interest in matters Turkish were Giovanni Paolo Marana's Letters Writ by a Turkish Spy and Montesquieu's Persian Letters.
  13. Osterhammel Die Entzauberung Asiens: Europa und die asiatischen Reiche im 18. Jahrhundert, 1998, who notes: "Neben das alte Bild des dämonisierten Feindes trat in der künstlerischen Repräsentation nun der übertölpelte Buffo-Türke, wie man ihn als Haremswächter Osmin auf Mozarts Entführung aus dem Serail (1782) kennt." (Next to the older image of the demonised enemy stood the over-the-top Turkish Buffoon in cultural representation, such as the Harem overseer Osmin from Mozart's Abduction from the Seraglio." p. 34
  14. Others have suggested that the Pasha is portrayed positively for acting like a Christian (this argument is made in Matthew Head – Orientalism, Masquerade and Mozart's Turkish Music, and possibly implied by Mary Hunter who says that he is 'represented as European by his act of mercy' (in 'The Alla Turca Style' in Jonathan Bellman (ed) – The Exotic in Western Music)).
  15. "Learn About Opera". Retrieved 18 September 2014.
  16. For discussion, see Rosen (1997, 165) and Eisen (2006, 164–165).
    • Jakubcová, Alena (ed.) (2007). Starší divadlo v českých zemích do konce 18. století (in Czech). Prague: Divadelní ústav, Academia. p. 707. ISBN 978-80-200-1486-3.
  17. Deutsch 1965, 201
  18. For a listing see Deutsch 1965, 201
  19. See the index entry for the opera in Deutsch 1965. The Stuttgart premiere had to wait until 19 September 1795, because the singspiel Belmont und Constanze, set to the same story by Christian Ludwig Dieter (1757–1822), first performed there in 1784, was so popular as to preclude any performances of Mozart's version; Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 5th ed, 1954, Eric Blom, ed.
  20. Quoted from Deutsch 1965, 305. The work of his own to which Goethe refers is his Scherz, List und Rache which was used for an opera by Max Bruch in 1858.
  21. Deutsch 1965, 202
  22. Noiray, Michel. "Blasius [Blassius], (Matthieu-)Frédéric" in Stanley Sadie, ed., The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, 4 vols. (London: Macmillan, 1992), 1: 498
  23. Bernard and Fadiman (2000, 339)
  24. See Schmidt-Hensel, previous footnote, and references cited there.
  25. Cited text from: "... gewaltig viele Noten, lieber Mozart!". Die Mozart-Autographe der Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, Exhibition notes, Berlin 2006, by Roland Dieter Schmidt-Hensel, State Library Berlin; Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz.
  26. Branscombe (2006, 165)
  27. Beales (2006, 238–239)
  28. Blonde's beloved Pedrillo addresses her as "Blondchen," the German diminutive form of her name. Blonde is also occasionally called Blondchen in program notes and similar contexts. See Hughes (1972:34).
  29. Edge (1992:72–73)
  30. Edge (1992:75)
  31. C. F. Bretzner (1962). Bloch, John W., ed. The Abduction from the Seraglio (libretto). New York: G. Schirmer. p. IV.
  32. English titles from The Abduction From the Seraglio, Chandos Records CHAN 3081 (2002)


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