Our guide to Glyndebourne: Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail

Photo by Richard Hubert Smith.

Photo by Richard Hubert Smith.

In our previous blogpost we got to grips with opera company Glyndebourne: who they are, how they started and why they’re so very exciting for us. Now, Kate Evans takes us through each of the three productions they’ll be bringing to us in November, starting with Die Entführung aus dem Serail.

So, we should probably start with the title! It’s usually translated as ‘The Abduction From The Seraglio’, seraglio being another word for harem. Yes, we are in the world of the exotic Orient, as imagined by the West in the 18th century.

In this opera we follow the story of a Spanish nobleman, Belmonte, and his attempt to rescue his beloved, Konstanze, from the harem of the Turkish Pasha Selim. As you may guess from the title, singing is in German – but those non-German speakers among you will be pleased to learn that this production does have English supertitles!

Die Entführung is part of a great eighteenth century fascination with all things ‘Eastern’ – possibly triggered by the failed siege of Vienna by the Ottoman Turks in 1683. It reflects the contemporary view of the Orient as strange, opulent and dissolute – but being Mozart, it’s never simplistic, and has (small spoiler alert!) a surprise ending which turns the audience’s expectations on their heads.


Photo by Richard Hubert Smith.

So, that’s the plot – what about the music? The opera is in a style called ‘singspiel’, which means ‘sung play’. This means it contains spoken dialogue between its musical numbers, a bit like many modern musicals. It contains some of Mozart’s most spectacular and difficult to sing arias. The most famous aria is one sung by Konstanze whilst she is trapped in the Pasha’s harem – called Martern aller Arten (Tortures Of All Kinds). It is regarded as one of the great challenges for sopranos.

Mozart was just 26 when he wrote Die Entführung – an age when most composers would just be getting started, but Mozart was already something of a veteran. He was also desperate for money and needed to write something that would immediately be popular. First performed in Vienna in 1782, Die Entführung was exactly that  – despite the verdict of the Emperor Joseph II, who reportedly commented: “too many notes, my dear Mozart!”

Whatever the Emperor thought – Die Entführung has remained a hugely popular work – and this production has garnered some outstanding reviews. The Stage described it as ‘a vocal and visual treat’ whilst the Guardian said the production was ‘mesmerising’. We can’t wait!

Glyndebourne’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail comes to The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury, on Wednesday 4 and Saturday 7 November, alongside performances of Don Pasquale and Saul.

Glyndebourne: What’s it all about?

Don Pasquale. Photo by Bill Cooper

Don Pasquale. Photo by Bill Cooper

Ah, Glyndebourne…The very mention of the name makes opera-lovers go all misty eyed, but for the uninitiated, what exactly is it?

Well, Glyndebourne itself is a country house in Sussex. Its involvement with opera began in 1934 when the house’s then owner, John Christie, and his opera singer wife Audrey Mildmay decided to hold an opera festival in their own home. Since then, the Festival has developed hugely – not least with the opening of a new purpose built opera house seating 1200, which opened in 1994.

However, the Festival still retains many of its traditions, with many audience members choosing to dress up and have picnics in the grounds as part of their visit. The Festival – which runs from May to August every year – also still remains very much a family affair. Its current Executive Chairman is John Christie’s grandson Gus. And of course, Glyndebourne retains its reputation for producing world-class opera productions.

But what on earth, you may well be asking at this point, does this have to do with The Marlowe and Canterbury? The other half of Glyndebourne is the Glyndebourne tour, which takes productions direct from the famous festival and tours them around the country every autumn. We at The Marlowe are very proud to be a regular venue for the Glyndebourne tour ever since the opening of our new building in 2011.

Our relationship with Glyndebourne actually dates back to the days when our current theatre was still a twinkle in Theatre Director Mark Everett’s eye.

“We had been using Glyndebourne as an example of the scale and quality of the productions the new theatre could stage while we were still open in the old building,” Mark recalls. Two senior members of the Glyndebourne team even visited the site of the new theatre during construction, and pronounced that it would be possible to bring their productions to Canterbury.

“I knew it would be – and is – an immensely happy relationship. Glyndebourne love coming to The Marlowe and we love having them. Many of the artistes have said it is their favourite auditorium to perform in, because of its superb acoustics and sightlines,” says Mark.

The Glyndebourne Tour 2015 comes to The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury, from Tuesday 3 – Saturday 7 November, with productions of Donizetti’s Don Pasquale, Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail and Handel’s Saul.