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Rumour is told of Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio that emperor Joseph II said it to be: “Too beautiful for our ears, and far too many notes, my dear Mozart.” – to which Mozart’s alleged response was, “Exactly as many, Your Majesty, as are needed.” Although this back and forth is found in Mozart’s biography, written by Franz Xaver Niemetschek eight years after the composer’s death, it cannot be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt. Nonetheless, the sceptical praise ascribed to the emperor compounded the reservations the contemporary critics had. Most surrendered to the musical excess of the score: Mozart was said to have taken the subject too seriously, and it could be argued that his complex harmonies overwhelmed instrumentalists and listeners alike, and that his work “did not belong in the theatre”.
Indeed, Mozart over-enthused the genre of a play with musical interludes in favour of a musical world theatre: In this play, the star-crossed lovers Belmonte and Konstanze – as noted by the musical orchestra – sound out their existential dangers in musical proximity to the opera seria, while the ensemble art of the opera buffa blossoms in duets, trios and quartets, with vivid musical contrasts showcasing the difference between the upper class and servant-class figures. Mixed in, the viewer will not miss out on the traditional French opéra comique style of comical song and romance. The musical interpretation of Osmin, who, as the overseer of the country house of Bassa Selim, provokes the mockery and fears of the Europeans who dwell there, which is completely without precedent. For behind his mask of gluttony, drunkenness and polygamy there is none other than Bacchus, the god of intoxication, who cannot be brought under control by any rational discipline. He is one of those non-integrable types who – much like Elettra in Idomeneo or the Queen of the Night in The Magic Flute – must be driven out of the community of the enlightened, even exorcised, at the end of a play: "But just look at the animal there, whether one can bear such a thing.” Osmin's coarse excesses are spiced up by Mozart’s use and sound of "Turkish music": triangle, cymbals, bass drum and flageolet, a relative of the recorder playing the high and highest register. Mozart fuses all these stylistic elements into a magnificent synthesis.
During his lifetime it was by far his most successful play which was enthusiastically performed at many theatres. At the same time, Abduction became the first German-language opera and has been performed without interruption ever since. At the Vienna State Opera, one of the successor institutions of the old Burgtheater – the very part of the Hofburg no longer in existence today and where Abduction held its premiere in 1782 – the work was performed almost every year between 1872 and 2000, before the latest new production of the State Opera came out in 2006 in what is known as today's Burgtheater. Now Mozart's stroke of genius returns to the opera house under the musical direction of Antonello Manacorda. The role of Konstanze, the demands for which are brilliantly technical and expressive, was conceived for the famous diva Caterina Cavalieri, who is portrayed by Lisette Oropesa in the first performance and by Brenda Rae in the second. The role of Osmin, composed for the phenomenal bassist Ludwig Fischer, is sung by Goran Jurić. Belmonte, one of Mozart's most beautiful roles for a lover, is performed by Daniel Behle. Michael Laurenz in the role of Pedrillo and Regula Mühlemann as Blonde play the servant couple, to whom Mozart has dedicated some of the most original moments of his score.
The formal structure of the musical comedy, in which spoken dialogues mediate between the musical numbers, is pierced by a creative statement of Mozart's work, evidenced in one of the six main roles, where Bassa Selim plays a pure speaking role. In this role, a European man, driven out of his enlightened Western existence by the conspiracies of Belmont's father, who turned away from the Christian faith and gained power and wealth in the Orient, becomes consumed by an unhappy love for Konstanze, whom he acquires from the slave market, but who feels bound by a promise of loyalty. The border between spoken speech and song marks the impossibility of a union between both. To highlight that which this union is – a utopia – director Hans Neuenfels gives the same dignity to the art of the recitative as to the singing by casting actors once again to take on the solo singing roles. His new version of the libretto retains all of the original plot elements, with the acting and singing reflected in highly poetic reflections and interweavings. With good reason one can claim that the theatre has seldom succeeded in projecting this opera’s much-invoked as well as elusive emotional complications reminiscent of a chamber play onto the theatrical level as this master production has.