Abduction from the Seraglio: Freedom and Justice for Some
All too often, characters of African descent in operas written during the 18th and 19th centuries are defined as the institution of slavery and the idea of inferiority. But today’s composers, like Dr. Sharon Willis, aim to write about Black life in order to uplift the community where she lives and works. She says she has “no use” for the depiction of Black people as “buffoons or vixens or mammies.”
This week on Every Voice with Terrance McKnight: we return to Dr. Willis’s music, and hear about a 19th century African American family that inspired one of her sixteen operas. And by contrast, we’ll discuss Mozart’s opera “The Abduction from the Seraglio," in which he explores the theme of slavery and freedom, however freedom is a birthright for some, not for all.
Correction made on May 14, 2023: This episode was updated clarify that Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II commissioned Mozart’s opera “Abduction from the Seraglio.”
This episode is written, hosted and produced by Terrance McKnight. The Executive Producer is Tony Phillips. The Executive Producer for WQXR Podcasts is Elizabeth Nonemaker. Our research team includes Ariel Elizabeth Davis, Pranathi Diwakar, Ian George, and Jasmine Ogiste. Sound design and engineering by Alan Goffinski. Original music composed by Jeromy Thomas and Ashley Jackson. Special thanks to Dr. Sharon Willis for her original compositions and the Livermore Valley Opera for the use of their performance of Abduction from the Seraglio.
This project is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts. To find out more about how National Endowment for the Arts grants impact individuals and communities, visit www.arts.gov.