Sunday, June 20, 2010

Mozart's Opera "Zaide"

Okay, so the picture to the left doesn't look very much like an eighteenth-century opera, but I just finished work on this production of Zaide and despite appearances it was, in fact, written by Mozart in 1780, the same year as the current Diary. Never heard of this one? That's not surprising given that Mozart never actually finished the piece. He was working on it in Saltzburg as early as 1779, but dropped the project when a better opportunity presented itself in the form of a commission to compose Idomeneo. The opera was found amongst his papers after his death and published in 1838, but was not performed for the first time until 1866.

The story is similar to many "rescue" dramas of the time, most especially Voltaire's story Zaire, which features the Sultan of Jerusalem, his beloved slave; Zaire, and another slave; Nerestan. In Zaide there is a sultan named Soliman who is in love with his slave, Zaide, but Zaide is in love with another slave called Gomatz. In the libretto by Johann Andreas Schachtner the lovers flee with the help of another slave named Allazim, only to be recaptured and brought back to the sultan for judgement, torture, and very probably death. If this sounds familiar it's probably because the plot of Mozart's Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail holds many similarities, except that in that story everyone goes free in the end, but Mozart never finished Zaide so we do not know what he intended.

In the production I just finished we played chose-your-own-adventure-opera and let the audience decide each performance which of three endings there would be, but we only gave them a single word clue as to what each ending would entail. If you're interested in what those three possibilities were I encourage you to read this review by Washington Post writer Anne Midgette, for a full and less biased report than mine.

To enjoy a sample of the music I give you the final quartet from Act II.

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