While European powers were at war with the Ottoman Empire for much of the eighteenth century, European opera houses were staging operas featuring singing sultans and pashas surrounded by their musical courts and harems. Mozart wrote The Abduction from the Seraglio. Rossini created a series of works, including The Italian Girl in Algiers. And these are only the best known of a vast repertory. This book explores how these representations of the Muslim Ottoman Empire, the great nemesis of Christian Europe, became so popular in the opera house and what they illustrate about European–Ottoman international relations.
After Christian armies defeated the Ottomans at Vienna in 1683, the Turks no longer seemed as threatening. Europeans increasingly understood that Turkish issues were also European issues, and the political absolutism of the sultan in Istanbul was relevant for thinking about politics in Europe, from the reign of Louis XIV to the age of Napoleon. While Christian European composers and publics recognized that Muslim Turks were, to some degree, different from themselves, this difference was sometimes seen as a matter of exotic costume and setting. The singing Turks of the stage expressed strong political perspectives and human emotions that European audiences could recognize as their own.
About the author
Larry Wolff is Professor of History and Director of the Center for European and Mediterranean Studies at New York University. He is the author of Paolina's Innocence: Child Abuse in Casanova's Venice, The Idea of Galicia: History and Fantasy in Habsburg Political Culture, Venice and the Slavs: The Discovery of Dalmatia in the Age of Enlightenment, and Inventing Eastern Europe: The Map of Civilization on the Mind of the Enlightenment—all published by Stanford University Press. Visit Larry Wolff's website at www.singingturk.com
"Elegantly and engagingly written, The Singing Turk is the first exhaustive and definitive investigation of the largely forgotten body of operas on Turkish themes. It is also an intellectual history of European identity as it variously rejected, resisted, flirted with, but never genuinely embraced Turkey and the Turks, with far-reaching present-day relevance."
—Maria Todorova, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
"Larry Wolff's book combines in the best way imaginable the study of history and of opera. I have never hummed and drummed as much when reading a book."
—Philipp Ther, University of Vienna
"This tome is a vigorous, literate and well-informed examination of the place of Ottoman- Turks in European operatic traditions that succeeds in making sense of a complicated, intricate and otherwise fragmented page in Western history. A remarkable feat, The Singing Turk is the first full account of a musicological phenomenon that, following centuries of conflict, underwent unprecedented changes to its fundamental intellectual roots following the defeat of the Ottoman army outside Vienna in 1683 and the transformation of their portrayal in popular culture across Christian Europe in the eighteenth century...It is likely to become the standard text on the subject for English- speaking readers, and can be warmly recommended to graduate and undergraduate students with an interest in opera, music, history and the dynamic tensions of Christian– Muslim relations."
—Abdullah Drury , Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations