In the Wings

Backstage glimpses with Boston Lyric Opera

From the Archives: BLO's ZAIDE (1977)

Dec 19, 2014 2:47:00 PM
By BLO Staff

Treasures from the BLO archives!

Today, we perused the program for BLO's Zaide, from the Company's 1976/77 Season. Zaide, which was unfinished upon Mozart's death, is a Singspiel, meaning that it alternates between spoken dialogue and sung arias (much like The Magic Flute). Its story is set in Turkey, an exotic and fascinating locale to 18th-century, European audiences, and tells the story of two slaves, Zaide and Gomatz, who fall in love and try to escape their master, the Sultan Soliman, to freedom. Mozart's manuscript breaks off before the end, but our program note from 1977 has some great insights on the piece!

Program for the 1977 BLO production of Zaide

From the "Historical Note by Michael Goodson"
It was not until this century that Alfred Einstein discovered a Singspiel text of 1763, Das Serail, which was clearly the model for the libretto Mozart set. A tale of "fashionable turquerie" written by Frantz Joseph Sebastiani and composed by Joseph von Friebert, Das Serail not only clarifies major points of plot and characterization, but by its lack of dramaturgical skill throws into sharp relief the seriousness with which Mozart approached the adaptation prepared by his librettist.

That librettist — Andreas Schachtner, dramatist, Salzburg court trumpeter, and childhood friend of Mozart — retained the basic outline of the first of Sebastiani's two acts, while departing considerably from his source in the second. To what extent he intended to follow Sebastiani's denouement is uncertain. In Das Serail, coincidence alone prompts the Sultan Soliman's magnanimity: Zaide and Gomatz discover they are sister and brother and the Allazim character [the overseer to the slaves] is no less than their father! Yet in reconstructing a libretto around Mozart's score, Das Serail is an indispensible resource...

The score is an eloquent testament of Mozart's growing appreciation for the operas of Gluck, much of whose work he studied and saw performed while on tour in Paris...Mozart's statement that he "should help to raise the National German opera high in the musical world" has been interpreted many ways; jingoistic readings aside, the Singspiel was attractive not because it was German but because it was young and relatively free from the formal preconceptions that surrounded the opera seria and were beginning to surround opera buffa. It was a format with which Mozart could experiment, and which would reflect him fundamentally. Judging his contributions from Zaide to Die Zauberflote [sic], keeping in mind the claims staked in opera buffa and opera seria, one is tempted to ascribe the whole province of Singspiel as well to Mozart's personal property.

Curious about Zaide? Check out Lucia Popp singing "Ruhe sanft, mein holdes Leben" from Act I ("Rest peacefully, my sweet love"). Though Zaide is rarely performed, it is considered one of Mozart's finest for the soprano voice!

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