The Eroticism of Fat Men
This weekend, we’re offering readers £12 tickets to an exclusive performance of Mozart’s comic opera, The Abduction From The Seraglio, courtesy of Daily Mail sponsorship of Glyndebourne Tour. The performances will be staged at its exquisite opera house deep in the Sussex countryside. Here, we raise the curtain on this most exotic of Mozart’s masterpieces, revealing what really went on in the seraglios, or harems, of the Sultans . . .
A Sultan, taking a tour through the ladies’ quarters of his palace, had no more than to glance at a girl, make some trivial, admiring remark, and she was marked. She was given the epithet guzdeh — ‘in the eye’.
The girl would be installed in her own apartment with a fleet of servants. The Keeper of the Baths would take her to be massaged with perfumed oils. Her hair would be washed with water from silver ewers and plaited with pearls. Her body would be shaved and plucked, her nails painted. She would then pass into the chambers of the Keeper of the Lingerie, the Mistress of the Robes and the Head of the Treasury to be dressed in silks and jewels.
Only then would she be led to the Sultan’s bedchamber where she would be nudged through the door by one of the palace’s many eunuchs — castrated slaves from across the Ottoman Empire. She would have been instructed to gracefully, modestly (and, no doubt, apprehensively) approach the foot of the bed.
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This coquettishly comic opera tells of the efforts of a young Spanish nobleman as he sets out to rescue his fiancée from Pasha Selim, a Turkish despot who has abducted her to come and live as part of his seraglio
The Sultan’s bed was a palace in miniature, made in imitation of a Roman temple with columns of fluted silver. Crystal lions topped the bed posts and the hangings were gold brocade. A silver lantern inlaid with gold and encrusted with turquoise and rubies hung from the ceiling and next to the bed the Sultan kept his bow and arrows. So large was the chamber that the Sultan had his own archery range within its walls.
The sight of the arrows must have sent a shiver down the virgin’s spine as she stood at the foot of the bed. Under instruction from the eunuchs, she would lift up the coverlet and raise it to her lips, then creep beneath the sheets until she was level with her Sultan.
What happened next was entirely the Sultan’s pleasure.
The secrets of the harem have enthralled Western visitors to Constantinople, now Istanbul, for centuries. Who would not be seduced by stories of a gated palace with secret corridors, home to 370 women — 12 wives or Sultanas, concubines and virgins — and 127 eunuchs?
In the 18th century, travellers brought back stories and souvenirs from Constantinople which inspired a vogue for ‘Turquerie’ — imitations of Turkish art and culture — in fashionable European cities. English aristocrats commissioned tented pavilions worthy of a Sultan for their sweeping lawns; Parisian furniture-makers turned their hand to ottomans and silver coffee pots; and in Vienna, in 1781, the composer Wolgang Amadeus Mozart wrote Die Entführung aus dem Serail — The Abduction From The Seraglio.
This coquettishly comic opera, which Daily Mail readers can see on the Glyndebourne tour this autumn, tells of the efforts of a young Spanish nobleman, Belmonte, as he sets out to rescue his fiancée Konstanze from Pasha Selim, a Turkish despot who has abducted her to come and live as part of his seraglio.
The story includes pirates, slave traders, threats of torture, murderous Turks, trembling maidens and love triumphant.
In Vienna, in 1781, the composer Wolgang Amadeus Mozart wrote Die Entführung aus dem Serail — The Abduction From The Seraglio
But it is the seraglio itself and what went on behind its heavily-guarded walls that provided Mozart with his greatest inspiration.
Cambridge scholar Norman Penzer summed up popular understanding of this Ottoman curiosity in the introduction to his book Harem.
‘Most of us still imagine that the Sultan is — or, rather, was — a vicious old reprobate, spending all his time in the harem, surrounded by hundreds of semi-naked women in an atmosphere of heavy perfume, cool fountains, soft music and over-indulgence in every conceivable kind of vice that the united brains of jealous, sex-starved women could invent for the pleasure of their lord.’
The truth, as Penzer discovered on trips to Istanbul, was even more charged with erotic and deadly intrigue. The words harem and seraglio are used interchangeably, but they have subtly different connotations. Harem is borrowed from the Arabic word haram — meaning that which is unlawful.
The word suggests protected, inviolate, a sanctuary. A harem is a woman’s part of a palace or house where no male stranger may enter.
Seraglio, meanwhile, is derived from the Italian serraglio — a cage for wild animals. It is a word that invites ideas of captivity, of wild unrestrained passions within — and of the prurient interest of outsiders.
The original and greatest of harems was that of the Topkapi Palace in Constantinople, modern Istanbul, where for hundreds of years wives, concubines and eunuchs lived in extraordinary splendour — and total isolation from the outside world.
More than 300 rooms were grouped around 44 courtyards. There were bath houses, a mosque, gardens, fountains, aqueducts, aviaries, even a boating lake on which a Sultan could sail a small vessel and push the palace jester into the water to amuse himself.
The Abduction From The Seraglio will be staged at the exquisite opera house Glyndebourne (pictured) deep in the Sussex countryside
The harem’s ten kitchens served delicacies: dates, plums and prunes from Egypt; honeys from Romania and Hungary to sweeten drinks of cool sherbet; olive oils from Greece; pigeons and guinea fowl; and melons under ice from Mount Olympus. Turkish Delight was flavoured with mulberries, white grapes, apricot kernels and rosewater.
The harem was sumptuous, but a prison. Every window over the Bosphorus — the straits dividing Europe and Asia — was barred with an iron grille and a 50-strong guard stood by the main gates. At night, their number was swelled by janissaries, an infantry unit armed with yatagans — short, curved sabres. Inside the palace, the women were under the watch of the eunuchs.
By Quentin Letts
Verdict: Magical Mozart
Glyndebourne’s summer season has seen some eye-swelling modernism, but this production of Mozart’s Die Entfuhrung — a romantic 18th century abduction story sometimes called Il Seraglio — is splendidly ‘period’, a feast for traditionalist eye and ear.
It is also, paradoxically, intensely topical, presenting differences between West and East, not least in attitudes to female liberty and the treatment of hostages. The captor here may be an opulent Turkish Pasha (muscular-chested Franck Saurel), but it is almost as if Mozart anticipated recent events in the Middle East.
Glorious sets by Vicki Mortimer create the Pasha’s palace where much of the action occurs. The sea glints in the distance and there are enough ornate window shutters and finials and suggestions of minarets to transport us to the shores of the far end of the Mediterranean. Outside the theatre, Sussex cattle munch on the grass just beyond the Glyndebourne ha-ha, where picnic suppers are traditionally taken.
But back to the stage action: the brooding Pasha has taken hostage the Western woman he loves, the fair Konstanze (Sally Matthews). Her official squeeze, Belmonte (Edgaras Montvidas), is set on rescuing her. Konstanze is duly grateful but, entre nous, she may be a little tempted by her Eastern captor. He does seem more ardent and interesting than decent-but-dull Belmonte!
Conductor Robin Ticciati extracts a rich sound from the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. This may also be one of the few operas where you will see a food fight, and quite a good one at that. It happens between English maid Blonde (Mari Eriksmoen) and the Pasha’s security chief Osmin (the excellent Tobias Kehrer).
‘Englishmen must be fools to tolerate such wilful women!’ goes the Turkish male lament. ‘By Allah, she could make rebels of all our women!’ The captive lass snorts: ‘Girls aren’t chattels. I am an Englishwoman, born free!’
All this with Mozartian music rising thunderously from the pit, strong singing and a wonderful set. And that’s even before you open your picnic fizz. What a treat!
There was a hierarchy: white eunuchs from Georgia, Hungary and Croatia were entrusted with administrative and secretarial roles, while black eunuchs from Abyssinia and Sudan had more mundane servants’ duties. Male slaves were fully emasculated with a pewter needle and sharp sickle-shaped knife. Seraglio doctors inspected the eunuchs not only when they entered service, but every few years. ‘Just to see,’ wrote Norman Penzer, ‘that everything was in order and that nothing had grown again.’
Watched by the eunuchs within the palace and surrounded by guards outside, the women of the harem were exquisite birds in a gilded cage. The penalty for rebellion was swift and merciless.
The Kislar Agha, chief eunuch, would send word to the janissaries giving the name of any woman who stepped out of line. She would be seized, tied in a sack weighted with stones and thrown into a small rowing boat, attached to a larger vessel by rope. The janissaries would then sail out into the Bosphorus and with a few sharp tugs of the rope, capsize the smaller craft.
On one horrific occasion, the Sultan Ibrahim, who ruled between 1640 and 1648, decided to murder his entire harem — so that he might have the pleasure of assembling a new one. As many as 300 women are thought to have been drowned.
There’s an old Sultana’s tale of a diver in search of shipwreck treasure who reached the bottom of the Bosphorus. All he found was many hundreds of weighted sacks, each the size and shape of a dead woman, swaying in the currents.
The seraglio of the Topkapi Palace was the grandest — and cruellest — of the empire, but in the minds of western Europeans it was only one of a vast number of Ottoman pleasure palaces where perfumed virgins reclined on tasselled cushions and rapacious pashas — dignitaries appointed by the Sultan — smoked bubble pipes. Every bathhouse became a place of imagined debauchery, where a daughter, sister or fiancée might be abducted and enslaved.
It wasn’t only Mozart who fuelled this fear and eroticism. Victorian painters such as John Frederick Lewis, Frederic Leighton and Frank Dicksee travelled to North Africa and the near East to paint scenes of languid women reflected in turquoise pools or coquettishly curled on leopard pelts. Frank Dicksee’s portrait of the fictional ‘Leila’ in apricot silk is typical of this sultry style of painting.
For although a man such as Mozart’s hero Belmonte dreaded the abduction of his beloved to a harem by some wicked pasha, he was, at the same time, tantalised by the fantasy of finding himself in a tiled courtyard surrounded by virgins competing for his affection and desire.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-3205508/Sex-slaves-Sultans-inviting-readers-Glyndebourne-Mozart-s-opera-Turkish-harem-steamy-truth-tale-make-hair-curl.html#ixzz3jn2qzcrC
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