Yesterday, I gave a brief history of the opera. Read it first, if you haven’t already. Now let’s review quickly what burlesque is, and is not. Burlesque is entendre. Burlesque is not stripping. Burlesque began approximatly the same time as Mozart’s opera. Its purpose was to challenge convention, in society and theatre.
I direct you again to NPR (Save Public Radio!) and the movie “Amadeus” (which, yes, I know is a movie, not an historic text). Joseph II questions the “appropriateness” of the theme of Mozart’s opera. He is concerned that the setting, a harem, is not fit for the national theater. Mozart assures him that the opera is not at all indecent. In fact, it extols “German virtues”, such as love (OK, I think Mozart was stretching that nationalism thing a bit).
I was second Mozart’s claim that his opera is not indecent. And neither is the burlesque version Farin has proposed for our opera. Konstanze and Blonde, the 2 women held captive in the harem, stay faithful and chaste, despite the promise of torture. Faithfulness and chastity are only virtues if you are forced to call upon them! You are not actually faithful or chaste if you have never faced temptation or threats!
Yes, the sexy setting is necessary. It would be difficult to have an escape from a harem without harem girls. Or, in this case, a burlesque house with burlesque performers. And, it provides a perfect contrast to the minds and hearts of our heroines. Konstanze and Blonde are living in a society where a harem is perfectly acceptable, where women can be beaten for not submitting to a man. They are in a situation where it would be easier to be indecent. It is because of the setting of a harem, or burlesque house, that the stand of these two women means something. They hold that their love is more important than even their lives. The heroes, Belmonte and Pedrillo, risk their lives to save them.
And yes, sex sells. I fully expect that our retelling of “Abduction from the Seraglio” will draw a different audience than the typical opera crowd, because of its burlesque theme. But, “Abduction from the Seraglio” is, like most operas, a love story. This one just happens to have an happy ending.