Is it OK to Enjoy Mozart’s ‘Abduction from the Seraglio’?

A British postgraduate musicology student loads up the arquebus with a gigantic clot of academic jargon and unloads on Wolfgang:

Within the boundaries of Saidean Orientalism, a work is deemed more ‘Orientalist’ if it purports to be authentic. Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail makes few, if any, claims to authenticity, most significantly because in theatre the boundary between what is ‘real’ and what is ‘imagined’, what is literal or ironic, is difficult to define. In a sense, the onus of ideological responsibility is shifted from the work itself onto the audience, and the way in which they perceive it. Moreover, in the blurring between Self and Other, Die Entführung does not provide a clearly Oriental identity, against which the Westerner may posit their notion of Self. The work is clearly of Orientalism, as Said states of Aida, since there are allusions to the East within a discourse of power, political or otherwise, yet this could be said of so many disparate works that it is an ultimately useless conclusion.

The negative stereotypes of the East in Die Entführung clearly portray it in a way which would reinforce the West’s perception of its own superiority. However, in order to satisfy Said’s contextual conception of an Orientalist work there must be a hegemonic discourse which favours Western Imperialism, a clearly defined Other, to enable a codification of the Self as its converse, and an attempt to provide an ‘authentic’ depiction of the East. The political tensions between Vienna and the Ottoman Empire, however, mean that Die Entführung is less an ‘assumption to power’ than a reaction to the current threat of an equal, albeit temporarily sedated, enemy. Self and Other were too similar in real life, and overlap too much in the opera, to facilitate a clear distinction. Far from attempting a quasi-ethnographic authenticity, in his reliance on stereotypes and musical convention, Mozart makes no such claim and, owing to the theatrical and often comic nature of the work, it would be foolish to take all its implications at face value. The absence of an internal ideological consistency means that the opera, as a self-contained unit, cannot be interpreted as uniformly Orientalist in a Saidean sense. Moreover, as with any artwork which is sent into the public domain, the multiplicity of possible interpretations by audiences existing in different times, places and cultures, force one to admit that, even if a work were deemed Orientalist according to Said’s doctrines, this could never be a permanently unequivocal designation.

As one outrageous Internet wag put it after quoting this piece, 'I think that means: yes, it’s still okay to enjoy this opera.'

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