Flirting with Mozart
The Fascination of Mozart’s Seraglio
by Garnett Bruce
The Abduction at Peabody, February 20–23, 2004
Think of the Mozart tunes we cherish most: an inviting opening theme, a surprise change of key, a jaunty phrase turned on its ear and restrung like so many puns. We’re lulled by laughter and often unprepared for moments of poignancy, for so deft is the contrast in the music. Hear the horns whispering in Figaro’s fourth act aria warning of becoming a cuckolded husband, or poignantly as Fiordiligi suffers for her temptations in the second act of Così fan tutte. Once we are intrigued, we are hooked! We want more! Bring on the private jokes, remind us of our own foibles, and above all, give credence to our hopes.
In 1781, the 25-year-old Mozart moved to Vienna and set his sights on establishing himself within the musical and social circles which would propel his life and career. Die Entführung was his first big commission for the Viennese stage, written in collaboration with playwright/impresario Gottlob Stephanie and his resident company of German-speaking performers. Mozart took modest lodgings and subsequently fell in love with the landlady’s daughter, Konstanze Weber.
Is it an accident that Mozart’s fictional heroine shares her name with his own beloved? How much of Mozart’s creative genius was fed by his emotional one? He certainly pays great homage to Konstanze’s nobility, her steadfastness, her courage. The Act II marathon for any Mozart soprano of the back-to-back arias “Traurigkeit ward mir zum Loose” (Sadness has become my fate) and “Marten allen Arten” (Torture of every kind) is one of the more formidable scenes in any opera to that day. The physical demands on the artist ensure it will not be attempted without formidable preparation – only the most able will succeed.
|Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart|
|Around the time of The Abduction|
One of the joys of flirtation is its brevity. It flatters and either moves beyond the initial spark or fades away and can be dismissed as harmless. Yet we rarely dismiss this music – we return to Mozart time and time again. Perhaps we find comfort within his classical framework, but perhaps something more: a bit of wit or wisdom, a spark of intellect that beguiles and perhaps extends itself into our daily life. Mozart has established a language of musical flirtation not only for his opera characters, but also for his audiences. Each of us can recognize, even quote half a dozen of Mozart’s opening themes without a second thought. Innocuous enough, snippets from “Eine kleine Nachtmusik” or the “Rondo alla turca” encapsulate a light-hearted mood we keep returning to. We’re sold, and are content to keep listening, to stay engaged.
What are the roots of Mozart’s aural marketing? Personal or professional? I have found no documentation that Konstanze Weber was actually moved or motivated by Mozart’s musical gestures in Die Entführung, but no doubt she enjoyed his playfulness, his energy, and his intellect enough to want to share his life. And this is what Mozart shows to all of us: Life.
|Inside a Turkish Bath|
|Painting by Jean-Dominique Ingres|
Before we’ve heard Donna Konstanze sing a note, her fiancé Belmonte announces his life’s mission: to find her again. He sets her on a pedestal in both his first-act arias. She is the reason for his troubles, for his travels. When their reunion is imminent he sings “O wie ängstlich, o wie feurig klopft mein liebevolles Herz ! ” (How anxiously and ardently my heart is beating). His feelings confuse and baffle him, allowing the repetition of her name to provide comfort, calm and clarity. His life lacks point or purpose without his love. Belmonte will acknowledge this during his Act II aria: “the pain of separation is made only more apparent by the joy of this reunion.”
Konstanze’s first aria “Ach ich liebte” (Ah, I was in love) allows her to confess to her captor – the Pasha Selim – how her separation from Belmonte is the source of her sadness. But this rival for Konstanze’s affections never sings, only speaks, so (at least in opera) he is at a disadvantage. But in this story, even the Pasha plays against type – he refuses to command her to love him, rather allowing her the space to come to love him of her own free will. Drama applies the deadline of “tomorrow morning” to his noble gesture, but nonetheless, by allowing Konstanze free will, his response implies that her presence has brought about a change, if not within the Seraglio, then certainly within the Pasha.
But the road to Enlightenment is neither easy nor straight. The largest ensemble from this opera is the quartet sung by the four lovers at the conclusion of Act II. The noble reunion of Belmonte and Constanze has its counterpoint in the embrace of Pedrillo and Blonde, but then both men begin to doubt their lovers’ fidelity. Hurt and anger are followed by abject apology; pardon and relief return triumphantly, and four-part harmony ends the act. The vicissitudes of flirtation yield apparently to the triumph of love!
The plot has one more reversal in store. In Act III, the abduction (or rescue) promised in the opera’s title is attempted and thwarted. Konstanze and Belmonte are condemed to death. The strongest testament to their love is their final (and only) duet. Belmonte realizes that his urgent desire to reunite with Konstanze will lead to her demise. In the face of their foiled escape and imminent punishment, she consoles the guilt-ridden Belmonte and redeems his actions by forgiveness, countering that she would rather die with him than live without him. Triumphantly, she changes his despairing, dour D-minor phrases into confident, consoling B-flat major, her text a harbinger of Liebestods to come.
|The final scene of The Abduction|
|Nineteenth-century performance in London|
At the very end, however, Pasha Selim pardons the lovers, delivering the authoritative wisdom of the Age of Enlightenment from the most unlikely source. East meets West, and each finds something to learn from the other. Mozart’s music, like Stephanie’s story, involves a similar tension between classical order and something surprising, less easily controlled; it offers a window to our imaginations, if we play along. It provides a framework that can focus our attention, reset our rhythms if we let it, and then seduce us with melody that may turn on us, that may diverge from our way of thinking, that may engage us in its journey, or provide the introspection that amplifies emotion beyond definition.
Oh yes – just three weeks after the premiere of Die Entführung, Wolfgang and Konstanze were married. It would be a great leap to assume the abstract of music provided their concrete connection, but his expressions of ardent love and devotion never seem more genuine than in the opera he wrote during their courtship.Return to top