16 July 1782, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Die Entführung aus dem Serail” (The Abduction from the Seraglio) premiered at the Vienna Burgtheater with the composer conducting.
“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.“ (Goethe)
|Anton Hickel: "Roxelana and the Sultan" (1780)|
|A 17th century imagination of Europeans sold on an Oriental slave market|
|Mozart (the small one in the centre) attending a performance of "Il Seraglio" in Berlin (1789)|
“Il Seraglio” was not only among the first German operas but lifts the curtain to Mozart’s mature masterworks. The start of his career’s climax with a Janissary drumbeat was slightly marred by the fact that the Salzburgian genius had simply commandeered one Christoph Bretzner of Berlin’s libretto known as “Belmont und Constanze, oder Die Entführung aus dem Serail“, published during the previous year. He and his librettist Gottlieb Stephanie reworked the whole thing completely, without asking Bretzner’s permission, naturally, and made it into an intricately woven, timeless masterpiece, copyright infringement or not. And intricately woven enough to make its enlightened absolutist commissioner Emperor Joseph II complain “Zu schön für unsere Ohren, und gewaltig viel Noten, lieber Mozart!", too beautiful for our ears and a mighty lot of notes and dear Mozart answered to his sovereign and eternity: “There are just as many notes as there should be.“ His Habsburg Majesty remained an ardent supporter and patron regardless and appointed Mozart as his “chamber composer” a couple of years later. A job that famously didn’t pay very much, just as the salary for writing “Il Seraglio” amounted to a rather manageable amount. The two opening performances in Vienna alone yielded three times of the 100 Imperial Ducats he was paid, about 10,000 Euros in today’s money, and Mozart saw nothing of it, neither did he earn something from the several booked-out performances staged already during his life and times across Europe. 100 Imperial Ducats, however, was about one third of an annual Viennese middle class income and not half bad for an artist in his twenties on the brink of his great breakthrough and most of the good people of Vienna lived from hand to mouth anyway. Meagre, admittedly, from an economic viewpoint for one of the most popular operas of all times.
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