Midday Music: The Abduction from the Seraglio Takeaways

Feb 3, 2020

Mozart’s hilarious sit-com The Abduction from the Seraglio lights up the Orpheum Theater for two performances only, February 7 & 9! Tickets start at $19: operaomaha.org/abduction

Thank you to all who attended Midday Music on Friday, January 31. We received a fantastic preview of Opera Omaha’s production of The Abduction from the Seraglio from director Alison Moritz and conductor Gary Thor Wedow in a conversation lead by Opera Omaha Producing Director Kurt Howard, and then heard an introduction to Mozart’s music for the opera from bass Erik Anstine (Osmin) and tenor Michael Kuhn (Pedrillo).

The conversation started by covering the inspirations for this production, which is set in interwar Germany. The film Casablanca (1942) inspires the nightclub setting of the opera, and there are similar themes with love triangles between the film and opera. Meanwhile, Kiss Me Kate (1953) was an inspiration for the slapstick action-comedy found in this production.

At this point in the conversation, Moritz and Wedow were asked what makes this production so fun for the audience member. Wedow explained that the original setting, the Ottoman Empire, was a cultural touchstone for those who saw the opera in Mozart’s time, as there had been war between the Ottomans and Vienna had been near omnipresent in the preceding decades. However, to audiences today the original setting does not have the same built-in associations. In updating the setting, then, Moritz has created something that we can all relate to because of the shared cultural references that resonate with the world as we experience it today. This in turn means that the opera is able to create an immediate connection with audiences, as one does not have to decipher an entirely different culture and worldview in order to appreciate the references.

The music is also a huge part of the joy of this opera for Wedow. There is music for everyone – from rowdy, foot-stomping military marches to romantic dances with the sort of gorgeous melodies for which Mozart is renowned, the opera has it all. For Moritz, the cast that has been assembled for this production help to bring a wonderful sense of frivolity. Not only are they all outstanding singers, they also make the most of the slapstick visual humor and make it immediate and fresh. This production is really a culmination of all the arts – gone are the days of singing statues on stage.

Both Moritz and Wedow noted that The Abduction from the Seraglio is technically considered a Singspiel rather than an opera. While Singspiel is generally considered a form of opera today, it attracted a quite different audience in Mozart’s time. The popular operas of the day were typically performed in Italian and were attended almost exclusively by wealthy patrons. However, Emperor Joseph II of the Holy Roman Empire saw the need for musical entertainment for the common folk, performed in German. His solution was the German National Theater. The Theater had two branches; one performed plays containing all spoken dialogue, while the other performed shows with songs, called Singspiel. Singspiel alternate songs in often simple structures with spoken dialogue, much like American musical theater. The Abduction from the Seraglio was a huge hit in Mozart’s time. In fact, it was his most performed opera of any genre during his lifetime. Other oft-performed Singspiel by Mozart include The Magic Flute and Zaide.

To close our introduction to this production, we heard an excerpt from the opera. Anstine and Kuhn performed the duet ‘Vivat Bacchus’, a Turkish-inspired drinking song in a 2/4 time signature. The duet also featured the Turkish crescent or ‘Jingling Johnny’, played with great enthusiasm by Wedow. The Turkish crescent is a staff-like instrument covered in bells that was traditionally found in Turkish Janissary bands. Originally used to keep time and inspire fear in the enemy, by Mozart’s time this instrument had become a signifier for a Turkish sound in music and was used largely for comic effect.

Thank you to all who attended Midday Music on Friday. We learnt a lot about what makes this incredible production tick and heard a beautiful performance of some of Mozart’s music. All that remains is to see it come to life on the Orpheum Theater stage on February 7 & 9!

Jack Hardwick
Opera Omaha Weitz Fellow

Catch up on our Opera in Conversation events for The Abduction from the Seraglio here.

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