Bassa Selim: Mozart's voice of clemency in Die Entführung aus dem Serail

Kristina Baron-Woods


Initially requested by Emperor Joseph II as entertainment for visiting Russian royalty, Mozart's singspiel Die Entführung aus dem Serail represents the first comic opera of the composer's mature career in Vienna. For Mozart, the honor of having his opera performed in such company would have presented an opportunity to present his work to the Viennese court, an important event that, if successful, could potentially ensure royal patronage for years to come. Therefore, it is understandable that he wished to edify Joseph II before his guests. To achieve this end, Mozart and Johann Gottlieb Stephanie created in the role of the Turkish Pasha an “Enlightened Renegade,” a character of great nobility who displays the ultimate show of power, that of mercy toward his worst enemies. By insisting on changes to Stephanie's libretto - including a new scene for the Pasha that shows him wrestling with himself over how forceful to be with his captive Konstanze, and the final scene which depicts his noble act of clemency – Mozart can be seen as attempting to curry favor with Joseph II and espouse ideals of the Enlightenment. However, since the opera's premiere in 1782, scholars have debated the merit of the Pasha's act of clemency, and have considered its artistic implication within the Singspiel genre, and its philosophical implication within the framework of the Enlightenment. While the motivations for the composition of the opera and the portrayal of an enlightened, magnanimous ruler may appear conflicting, the role of the Pasha undoubtedly offers a study of extreme power.

© Musicological Explorations, School of Music, University of Victoria

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