Die Entführung aus dem Serail

Die Entführung aus dem Serail (1782) – W.A. Mozart

Tales about Christians held captive by Muslims were widespread all over Europe for centuries. But by the 18th century the Turkish Empire had ceased to be a threat and Enlightenment thinkers were honing their critical faculties. In this new context stories about Arabs visiting Europe or Europeans staying in Muslim lands were a good way of presenting both Turkish and European customs in a critical light. This is what Montesquieu did in his Persian Letters (1721) or Cadalso in his Moroccan Letters (1781). Mozart’s The Escape from the Seraglio (1782) responds to the same atmosphere and has the same orientation. In musical terms, however, the first staging of The Escape from the Seraglio at the Burgtheater in Vienna in 1782 was the outcome of Emperor Josef II’s wish to enhance the prestige of the Singspiel, a genre akin to French opéra-comique but written in German, which was highly popular in German-speaking countries. These two factors converged to produce this light-hearted, open-minded, Enlightened opera which was Mozart’s one of his best-loved works.