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‘“Ich bin eine Engländerin, zur Freyheit geboren”: Blonde and the Enlightened Female in Mozart’s Entführung aus dem Serail’

Joncus, Berta. 2010. ‘“Ich bin eine Engländerin, zur Freyheit geboren”: Blonde and the Enlightened Female in Mozart’s Entführung aus dem Serail’. The Opera Quarterly, 26(4), pp. 552-587. ISSN 00187895 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

In Mozart’s Singspiel, Blonde is the antipode to her oppressor and would-be lover, the Turk Osmin. This article investigates the values Blonde embodied, why a blonde Englishwoman represented these notions, and how, in adapting Bretzner’s original libretto, intemperance crept into what had been a rational character. Re-reading Mozart’s music for Blonde through this history, we can see how Mozart laid gendering aside to emphasize the triumph of ‘blonde’ Enlightenment.
The syntax of Enlightenment theatre, by merging emblematic with mimetic representation, could make gender stand for public politics and visa versa. Within this syntax, refinement of private sentiment typically led to public virtue. Females might lead instruction in refinement – as they did traditionally in salons and ‘Polite’ households – but the action, by focusing on romance, kept female initiatives outside the public sphere. Blonde exemplifies this syntax. By opposing Osmin, she shows the superiority of European over Turkish civilization in a discourse about female empowerment through love. Instructing Osmin in European etiquette, she envoices three ideals: liberty from tyranny, consensual marriage, and a rejection of physical abuse. Blondeness overcomes Darkness: having rejected her advice, Osmin’s violence, sexual appetite, and belief in autocracy lead to his dissolution in the finale.
Blonde’s Englishness marks ‘her’ ideals as modern. For German playwrights, English plays had recently become models for exploring civil liberties through dramatis personae of lower orders. In writing the libretto in Leipzig, Bretzner updated his Italian source (La schiava liberta), deploying Englishness as a metonym for freedom to re-invent the servant as Blonde. Through this role he also articulated female rights recently championed in Leipzig, where Eliza Haywood’s Female Prompter had been a template for the first women’s periodical in German.
Bretzner’s demonizing of ‘Oriental’ impulses fit perfectly the agenda of Joseph II. The Singspiel was originally scheduled to premiere during a visit by the Consul of Russia, whose support Joseph was courting for a military offence against Turkey. Spicing up his adaptation, the playwright Stephanie undermined Blonde’s claim to rationality, turning her verbal threat against Osmin into an attempt to scratch out his eyes. Mozart, however, unequivocally championed Blonde(ness). The rondo form of her first aria allows her to repeat her etiquette lesson. Out of its naïve opening, her voice uncoils subtly, soaring gracefully up to e’’’ at the conclusion. In her duet with Osmin, her voice takes over. In the first section she mocks him by burlesquing his note of E’ flat, the polar (and darkened) opposite of her e’’’. In the duet’s second section the vocal lines are contrapuntally opposed; by singing the leading tones, Blonde moves the music to new tonal areas. Blonde, rather than Osmin, starts the final section, where Osmin must sing uncomfortably in his top range. In motioning her eye-scratching, she sings the section’s first full melodic statement, and Osmin begs her to desist by repeating her tune. Blonde prophesies the triumph of her values in her last aria whose simplicity and scoring – two flutes, and two oboes – symbolize light and union. In Mozart’s music, European Enlightenment, instantiated in blondness, banishes Oriental darkness.

Item Type: Article

Identification Number (DOI):

https://doi.org/10.1093/oq/kbq050

Additional Information:

Advance Access publication on April 4, 2011

Keywords:

Mozart, Abduction from the Seraglio, Singspiel, Bretzner, Orientalism

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Music

Dates:

DateEvent
2010Published

Item ID:

7948

Date Deposited:

29 Apr 2013 08:03

Last Modified:

30 Jun 2017 09:44

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.

URI: http://research.gold.ac.uk/id/eprint/7948
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