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Sunday Afternoon at the Opera - Mozart: Zaide; Kraus: Soliman II

09/08/2013 1:00 pm
09/08/2013 4:30 pm


Sunday Afternoon at the Opera host Keith Brown writes:

Today's programming echoes what I presented as Summertime lyric theater fare back on Sunday, August, 4th. You got to hear two more works in the eighteenth century genre of "Turkish opera."

Musicologists consider Mozart's Zaide, also referred to as Der Serail (K. 344/336b) to be the prototype of his later masterwork The Abduction from the Seraglio. Written in 1780, it was almost certainly never performed in Mozart's lifetime. The score is not quite complete and even the title of the piece is in doubt.

Zaide is a Singspiel in popular musical style with spoken dialog in German. Europeans in those days were amused and titillated by the idea of a Muslim potentate maintaining a harem of sex slaves. In the pathos of both its music and its storyline, Zaide is a different, more darkly colored drama than its successor, the essentially comic Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail.

I find it surprising that there have been several good recordings of Zaide made since the advent of the hifi/stereo LP. The recording I aired way back on Sunday, October 23, 1988 was the 1975 PHILIPS LP release. It starred soprano Edith Mathis in the title role. Then there was the Orfeo CD release broadcast on Sunday, December 13, 1992, resulting from the 1982 Salzburg Mozart Week production of the reconstructed Singspiel, as broadcast over Radio Austria. That one had Judith Blegen as Zaide.

The CD recording in my own collection was the one I aired more recently on Sunday, April 28, 2002. This one comes closest to historical authenticity. Paul Goodwin directs the period instrument players of the Academy of Ancient Music. English soprano Lynne Dawson is heard as then harem girl who escapes the Sultan Soliman's clutches. This Zaide is a 1998 release on a single CD through the German Harmonia Mundi label. I'm broadcasting it a second time this Sunday.

And thinking of that amorous sultan, you'll hear next about another potentate Soliman The Second, or The Three Sultanas, which is a drama med sang in Swedish language, the music supplied by Mozart's exact contemporary Joseph Martin Kraus (1756-92). Kraus was a German composer who served the Swedish monarch Gustav III. He wrote Soliman II in 1788 at the king's behest for production in Stockholm the following year. It became Kraus' most popular operatic work. This Swedish variant of the German Singspiel is a low comedy. The comic dialog has been omitted from the world premiere recording of Soliman II, issued in 1992 through Virgin Classics on a single compact disc. The recording resulted from a broadcast revival in the studios of Radio Sweden in March, 1991. Gustav III founded the Royal Swedish Opera in 1773. It's fitting therefore that the radio production involved the Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera of Sweden, led by the American conductor Philip Brunelle. I last presented Soliman II on Sunday, July 19th, 1992.