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The Singing TurkOttoman Power and Operatic Emotions on the European Stage from the Siege of Vienna to the Age of Napoleon$

Larry Wolff

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780804795777

Published to Stanford Scholarship Online: January 2017

DOI: 10.11126/stanford/9780804795777.001.0001

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The Generous Turk

The Generous Turk

Captive Christians and Operatic Comedy in Paris

(p.51) 2 The Generous Turk
The Singing Turk

Larry Wolff

Stanford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter considers Paris as an operatic perspective on the Ottoman empire, conditioned both by the relative remoteness of Paris from Istanbul and the longterm French solidarity with the Ottomans against the Habsburgs. The Paris fairs of the early eighteenth century served as a matrix for the emergence of new musical comedies on Turkish themes, including the comical figure of Arlequin (Harlequin). The Ottoman embassy to Paris in 1720-1721 stimulated a fashionable cultural interest in Turquerie, while the publication of Montesquieu’s Persian Letters in 1721 as a foundational work of the French Enlightenment encouraged a philosophical perspective on the Muslim world. These new attitudes received their most important and influential operatic expression in Rameau’s Les Indes galantes of 1735, with one act titled Le Turc généreux. The “generous Turk” was a magnanimous and sympathetic pasha who ultimately emancipated a female European captive from his harem.

Keywords:   Arlequin (Harlequin), captivity, Enlightenment, harems, Montesquieu, Jean-Philippe Rameau, Le Turc généreux (Rameau), Saint-Germain fair, Saint-Laurent fair, Turquerie

Introduction: Comedy versus Tragedy

While the Habsburg view of the Ottomans was shaped by centuries of military encounter in southeastern Europe and the Venetian view involved alternating bouts of naval warfare with long periods of commercial intimacy with the Ottomans, the perspective of France was entirely different. When the figure of “the generous Turk” stepped forward on the Parisian stage to sing his magnanimity in Jean-Philippe Rameau’s Les Indes galantes of 1735, that performance followed upon two centuries of extremely cordial Franco-Ottoman relations. This cordiality accompanied the scandalous alliance of “the Lily and the Crescent”—formed by King François I and Sultan Suleiman I in the 1530s, aimed at their common Habsburg enemy. While Paris was geographically more remote from the Ottoman empire than Venice or Vienna, both as a political capital and later as an operatic center, the French-Ottoman association created a special relationship that involved, not the frontier intimacy of the Triplex Confinium, but rather the formal ceremonial rituals of political entente. Back at the beginning of the alliance in the 1530s there took place an unprecedented Ottoman embassy to France and the establishment of a French ambassador, Jean de La Forêt, in Istanbul. More important for French theatrical history was the embassy of Müteferrika Suleiman Aga to the court of Louis XIV in 1669, directly inspiring the Turkish ceremonial of Molière and Lully’s Le bourgeois gentilhomme of 1670. Still more important was the year-long embassy of Yirmisekiz Mehmed Çelebi Efendi to France in 1720–21, encouraging a fashionable interest in (p.52) Turkishness, called Turquerie, which helped to create the operatic fantasy of “the generous Turk.”

While the Ottoman operatic subject in Venice emerged as fundamentally tragic, with the Sultan Bajazet singing in captivity and ultimately killing himself rather than submitting to the will of Tamerlane, Turkish operatic scenarios in Paris evolved along largely comical lines. Molière and Lully created an entirely comical travesty of Turkishness in the late seventeenth century, and then in the early eighteenth century a new genre of musical Turkishness emerged in the popular comedies of the Paris fairs, combined with characters of the commedia dell’arte tradition. In 1735 “the generous Turk” of Les Indes galantes at the Paris Opéra offered the first important operatic treatment of European captives in the Ottoman empire, exploiting the dramatic premise of European women in the power of Turkish men. Yet this was a situation that almost never turned tragic in the eighteenth century, instead offering the occasion for romance and comedy with an almost inevitably happy ending. The staging of captivity received its most whimsically entertaining form in 1761 with Charles-Simon Favart’s Parisian musical comedy Les trois sultanes (The three sultanas) about the harem of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent.

While the tragedy of Bajazet allowed Europeans to sympathize with the defeated Turkish sultan in the early eighteenth century, operatic comedies of Turkishness seemed to go one step further in allowing Europeans to respond with laughter to the no-longer-invincible Ottomans. At the same time, comic opera also had the effect of humanizing its Turkish subjects and encouraging European audiences to sympathize with the singing Turks on stage as participants in a common human comedy that encompassed both the characters of the opera and the members of the public. Audiences might sympathize with Bajazet, but they would be unlikely to identify with the Ottoman sultan in captivity. In comic opera the audience more readily recognized themselves when they laughed at the foibles of the singing figures on stage, and that identification could be sustained even when the figures were Turkish.

Lully and Campra: Mamamouchi in the Seventeenth Century

Turkishness in musical comedy dated back to the performance in 1670 of Molière’s comedy Le bourgeois gentilhomme—specified as a “comédie-ballet”—with music by Lully, concluding with a farcical “Turkish ceremony.” (p.53) Influenced by the presence of the Ottoman embassy of 1669, Molière created a Turkish ceremony that made use of exotic Turkish costumes and a mock-Turkish jargon of comical words and phrases that Jean-Baptiste Lully set to music. The work was first performed in October 1670 for Louis XIV at the Chateau de Chambord, and a performance in Paris followed in November at the Théâtre du Palais-Royal. There are no actual Turks among the dramatis personae, for the farce consists of the impersonation of Turks, which is intended to deceive the bourgeois gentleman and obtain his daughter in marriage for the visiting “Turkish prince” (her French suitor in disguise). The travesty serves to ridicule the bourgeois protagonist by providing a farcical mock-Turkish ceremony of ennoblement to indulge his longing for social elevation. Inasmuch as Le bourgeois gentilhomme was about impersonating Turks and staging Turkishness, it represented the dynamics of creating an opera about Turks without actually constituting such an opera.

The single musical scene of the Turkish ceremony begins with a march characterized by strong percussive rhythm; the vocal music features one low-singing baritone role for the presiding mufti. There is also a chorus of Turks and a troupe of Turkish dancers. The singing and dancing Turks of 1670 performed their ceremony around the figure of Monsieur Jourdain, the bourgeois gentleman (played by Molière himself in 1670), dressed in Turkish costume. Following the Turkish march, the Turkish chorus intoned with mock solemnity the name of Allah in comical repetition, and the Turkish mufti (played by Lully) addressed Monsieur Jourdain in a comical sort of pidgin language that may in fact have represented the Mediterranean lingua franca of the seventeenth century. He sang in an ungrammatical but not incomprehensible Italianate jumble, using only verbal infinitives:

  • Se ti sabir,
  • Ti respondir;
  • Se non sabir,
  • Tazir, tazir.

  • If you know,
  • You answer;
  • If you don’t know,
  • Stay silent, stay silent.1

Monsieur Jourdain is then invested with a turban and saber—“per defender Palestina”—while the mufti and chorus of Turks celebrate in repetitive nonsense syllables: “He la ba, ba la chou, ba la ba, ba la da.”

The French infatuation with Turkishness brings about the farcical thwarting of the bourgeois gentleman, who is thrilled to receive the title of “Mamamouchi,” and the young lovers are then able to marry happily in the spirit of (p.54) the comedy. Georgia Cowart has observed that Molière and Lully made use of Turkishness to create an “ultraburlesque” spectacle that allowed for the “carnivalesque” transcendence of categories of class and nation.2 Le bourgeois gentilhomme contained only this one Turkish musical scene, but because of the prestige of Molière and Lully, that scene became a precedent and point of reference for later French musical entertainments.

While “Mamamouchi” was perhaps a purely nonsensical title, and some of the spoken dialogue of the false Turks was intended as pseudo-Oriental nonsense (“ossa binamen sadoc babally oracaf ouram”), the comical language of the Turks, as well as their exotic costumes and even some of their movements and instruments, may have been copied from the authentic Turkish embassy of 1669. Michèle Longino, in her study of Orientalism in French classical drama, has emphasized the role of the chevalier Laurent d’Arvieux, a merchant and traveler to the Ottoman empire who actually knew Turkish and Arabic and had some knowledge of Middle Eastern customs. Louis XIV himself was aware of his expertise, and in 1670 d’Arvieux worked with Molière and Lully as a consultant on Ottoman details for the construction of their Turkish ceremony.3 Even in Paris, far from the Triplex Confinium, there was familiarity and expertise that facilitated the theatrical construction of farcical Turkishness and permitted the audience to appreciate the musical comedy.

In 1669, the year of the Turkish embassy, Louis XIV created the Académie d’Opéra, which became the Académie Royale de Musique in the 1670s under the direction of Lully, and which later came to be known as the Paris Opéra. It was there, at the Académie Royale, that André Campra’s opera-ballet, L’Europe galante, was performed in 1697. The work consisted of an allegorical prologue followed by four acts, each one a treatment of love with arias and dances in a different national context: France, Spain, Italy, and Turkey. The inclusion of Turkey—in the opera and in “gallant Europe”—coincided with the conclusion of the long war in southeastern Europe, during which Louis XIV had been tacitly allied with the Ottomans against the Habsburgs.

Campra’s work, with a libretto by Antoine Houdar de La Motte and musical contributions by André Cardinal Destouches, featured French shepherds, Spanish serenaders, and masked Venetians. The fourth and final act was set in Turkey in the harem of Zuliman, probably intended to represent Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, and the role of the sultan was sung by a basso. In a comical drama of harem rivalry, Roxane and Zaide vie for the sultan’s favor, (p.55) and whereas the historical Suleiman supposedly loved Roxane (or Roxelana, Hürrem Sultan) above all others, Campra’s treatment concluded with the romantic triumph of the self-abasing Zaide. While the French, Spanish, and Italian acts generally involved male suitors pursuing their female loves, the Turkish act reversed those terms. Zaide sings as a slave infatuated with her master in an aria that may have been composed by Destouches rather than Campra:

  • Et je me trouvay trop heureuse
  • D’être captive auprès de lui.

  • And I found myself too happy
  • To be his captive.

While Turkey was thus included as a part of gallant Europe in Campra’s work, it was also clearly a different part of Europe, in which the structure of gallantry was inverted to fit the paradigm of Ottoman despotism while nevertheless remaining within the genres of comedy and romance. According to the librettist La Motte, “We have expressed, within the limitations of the stage, the haughtiness and supreme authority of the sultan and the passionate nature of the sultanas.”4 In fact, it was through song that the sultana expressed both the emotional depth of her passion and the operatic intensity of her abasement before the turbaned embodiment of supreme authority.

The Paris Fairs: Harlequin in the Harem

Lully’s Turkish ceremony and Campra’s harem romance set seventeenth-century precedents for later operatic works on Ottoman themes. In the opening decades of the eighteenth century, however, while operas on the tragedy of Bajazet were being created in Italy, Turkish subjects followed a very different musical and dramatic course in France. Sultans and sultanas began to play a part in popular musical dramas at the commercial fairs of Paris, entirely within the genre of comedy and even combined with elements of commedia dell’arte. In the theatrical life of British fairs there was also a place for Turkish tragedy, and William Hogarth’s painting and print of the Southwark Fair in London from the 1730s included a theatrical company advertising its performance of “The Fall of Bajazet.”

At the Paris fairs of the early eighteenth century, at Saint-Germain and at Saint-Laurent, the popular theatrical entertainments—théâtre de la foire—included musical comedies, puppet shows, and acrobatic performances. Musicologist (p.56) Thomas Betzwieser has studied the particular prevalence of exotic themes, including Turkish and more generally Oriental settings, in the theater pieces of the fairs. Of particular relevance was the elimination of the Comédie-Italienne in Paris in 1697 by Louis XIV, under the moral influence of Mme de Maintenon, followed by the publication of the Thousand and One Nights in French translation by Antoine Galland between 1704 and 1717. This coincidence of events meant that the Italian commedia dell’arte could be adopted by French performers at the Paris fairs at the same time that a thousand and one Oriental scenarios could be adapted to the French theater. As a result, there was a proliferation of musical comedies featuring the figure of Harlequin (or Arlequin, in French), such as Arlequin Grand Vizir and Arlequin Roi de Serendib at Saint-Germain in 1713, Arlequin Mahomet at Saint-Laurent in 1714, Arlequin sultane favorite at Saint-Germain in 1715, and Arlequin Hulla ou la femme repudiée (a comedy of Muslim divorce and the “repudiated woman”) at Saint-Laurent in 1716. Such comedies could also extend to the more remote Orient, as in Arlequin invisible chez le roi de Chine (Invisible Arlequin visiting the king of China), performed at Saint-Laurent in 1713.5 Theater historian Bent Holm estimates, from the collected texts, that generally “Turkish” subjects made up as much as 20 percent of the theatrical repertory of the fairs.6

Arlequin Grand Vizir was a work that originated in the late seventeenth century, and echoed some of the mock-mufti singing of Lully’s Turkish ceremony: “vivir vivir, gran vizir.” Arlequin first enters the Turkish harem in female disguise and eventually ends up becoming the sultan’s Grand Vizier.7 At the Paris fairs such works of commedia dell’arte became increasingly parodic and irreverent as popular entertainment. In Arlequin Roi de Serendib there is scatological humor with Arlequin proposing to use his turban as a chamber pot. In Arlequin Mahomet he is casually mistaken for the Muslim Prophet, takes advantage of his prestige to arrange a happy marriage for an unhappy Oriental princess, and then chooses a “Houri” for himself before the final dance of slaves and eunuchs.8 At the fairs the music was provided on the principle of the “vaudeville,” as new lyrics were composed for old songs with well-known popular tunes, specified by their opening lines. Such confections were artfully contrived to evade the monopoly of the Paris Opéra on singing, and that of the Comédie-Française on reciting in French. Musicologist Daniel Heartz has observed that the hybrid entertainments of the Paris fairs were particularly important for the evolution of the eighteenth-century opéra (p.57) comique. Art historian Thomas Crow has further noted the significance of the Paris fairs for the emergence of an eighteenth-century public sphere.9

The Ottoman harem was to become one of the great operatic subjects of the eighteenth century, and it was prominent at the Paris fairs. Arlequin sultane favorite (Arlequin, the favorite sultana), was performed at the fair of Saint-Germain in 1715. Roughly contemporary with Gasparini’s operatic tragedy of Bajazet in Venice (1711) and Reggio Emilia (1719), the French comedy was set in the seraglio of the Grand Seigneur, the Ottoman sultan. There the captive Arlequin encounters his old friend and rival Pierrot, both of them characters from the commedia dell’arte. Likewise a captive, Pierrot is already “dressed à la Turque” and installed as a clown in the service of the sultan. Pierrot sings:

  • Non, de mon sort je ne dois pas me plaindre,
  • Et le malheur à quelque chose est bon.
  • Les Turcs m’ont pris mais je n’ai rien à craindre.
  • Le Grand Seigneur m’a choisi pour bouffon.
  • No, I should not complain of my fate,
  • And in every misfortune there is some good.
  • The Turks have taken me but I have nothing to fear.
  • The sultan has chosen me to be a clown.10

Pierrot promises that he can be useful to Arlequin, can even obtain for him the office of “black eunuch”—for the popular theater of the fairs was bold enough to make jokes about castration. As the title suggests, however, Arlequin was destined to enter the harem not as a eunuch but rather as a sultana. In Paris, as in Venice, there was nothing to be feared from the Turks in the decade of Passarowitz.

In 1715, the year of the death of Louis XIV, Arlequin sang a song of Ottoman tyranny in Arlequin sultane favorite, though the song was labeled “joconde,” reflecting the lighthearted treatment of the subject:

  • Sous la puissance d’un Tyran
  • Nous voici donc Esclaves
  • Dans un Pays ou l’Alcoran
  • Ne souffre point de caves.
  • On n’y voit point de Cabarets,
  • O misère inouïe!
  • Me voilà serré pour jamais
  • De vin & d’eau de vie.

  • Under the power of a tyrant
  • Here we are slaves
  • In a land where the Koran
  • Tolerates no wine cellars.
  • There one sees no taverns,
  • Unheard of misery!
  • Here I am shut off forever
  • From wine and from brandy.11

(p.58) The earnest rhyming of “Tyran” and “Alcoran” quickly gives way to Arlequin’s alcoholic concerns, reflecting the supposed perspective of a popular audience at the fair. Arlequin himself, in spite of his reservations, seems inclined to convert to Islam at Pierrot’s suggestion, and is very ready to admire himself in a Turkish robe, singing, “J’aurai l’air d’un Mamamouchi” (I will have the air of a Mamamouchi).12 It was Molière who created the title of Mamamouchi in order to ridicule Monsieur Jourdain in the Turkish ceremonial scene of Le bourgeois gentilhomme in 1670, and by the beginning of the eighteenth century it was already a sufficiently familiar point of reference to be cited in the musical comedies of the Paris fairs. Arlequin actually aspires to more authentic titles: “Je veux devenir Bacha” (I want to become a pasha).13 Though only a servant at home in Europe, in the Ottoman empire Arlequin can imagine himself achieving high rank.

In Arlequin sultane favorite the Ottoman sultan himself appears on stage to court his Christian captive, Isabelle—who turns out to be the lost beloved of Arlequin’s Christian master Léandre. The Sultan sings his passion, while also emphasizing his absolute power:

  • Astre brillant, que sur mon coeur
  • Avez pris tant d’empire,
  • J’attends de vous mon bonheur
  • C’est assez vous en dire.
  • Il faut bannir la rigueur
  • Quand un Sultan soupire.

  • Brilliant star who over my heart
  • Has established such an empire,
  • I expect my happiness from you,
  • It suffices to tell you that.
  • One must ban all severity
  • When a sultan is sighing.14

The issues of absolutism were very well understood in 1715, the final year in the reign of Louis XIV, and these were the same issues that would be explored over the next century in the various genres of opera about Turks.

The Christian lovers in Arlequin sultane favorite can only escape from the seraglio by distracting the sultan with the irresistible presence of Arlequin himself, veiled and costumed as a lady of the harem. When the concupiscent sultan finally succeeds in removing the lady’s veil to discover Arlequin behind it, Arlequin himself understands that the situation only requires him to do what he can do best: make the sultan laugh. “Riez donc [so laugh], Monsieur Mustapha,” he urges, treating the sultan as a familiar type with a generic name.15 Mustafa II had reigned in Istanbul until 1703 but was then succeeded by Ahmed III. Within the comedy the sultan shows that he has both a sense (p.59)

The Generous TurkCaptive Christians and Operatic Comedy in Paris

Arlequin sultane favorite—Arlequin the favorite sultana—was performed as a musical comedy at the Paris fair of Saint-Germain in 1715, the year of the death of Louis XIV. Veiled and costumed as a sultana of the harem, Arlequin comically deceives the sultan in order to facilitate an escape from the seraglio. In the end, when unveiled and revealed, he has to try to make the sultan laugh: “Riez donc, Monsieur Mustapha.”

With kind permission of the Teylers Museum, Haarlem, The Netherlands.

(p.60) of humor and a sense of magnanimity, acting as a “generous Turk” twenty years before that type and epithet were definitively established with Les Indes galantes. He liberates the Europeans to return to Europe, and though Arlequin is invited to remain in Turkey, he prefers to return to France, where he can drink more freely.

Arlequin was the star of the comedy, and the sultan, invited to laugh at Arlequin along with the audience, was not himself made into an object of ridicule. In this Turkish farce Turkishness itself was not farcical; Turkish costume, for instance, was only comical when it was being inappropriately worn by Arlequin, who represented Europe. In Arlequin au sérail of 1747, Arlequin and his master, Octave, grow long beards and pretend to be dervishes in order to rescue from the local pasha Octave’s love Angelique and Arlequin’s Columbine. Such works continued to be performed throughout the eighteenth century, and not only in France. Harlekin Hulla, based on the French original, was performed in Copenhagen in 1751, and Arlekin der Türkensklave (Harlequin the Turkish slave) appeared in Vienna for the siege centennial of 1783. Arlequin esclave à Baghdad (Harlequin slave in Baghdad) by Citoyen Vallier, in prose and vaudeville, was performed in Paris in year VII of the republic (1798–99), while Arlequin odalisque, by Citoyen Auger, was performed on the fifteenth day of Messidor in the revolutionary year VIII: July 4, 1800.16 The musical escapades of Arlequin at the Paris fairs had a major influence on operatic comedies with singing Turks throughout the eighteenth century.

The Ottoman Embassy of Mehmed Efendi and the Rise of French Turquerie

The Turkish embassy to France in 1720–21 by Yirmisekiz Mehmed Çelebi Efendi inaugurated an era of French Turquerie, coinciding as it did with the flowering of rococo style and a new cultural openness following the death of Louis XIV and the advent of the Enlightenment. Historian Fatma Müge Göçek argues that this cultural Franco-Turkish engagement had reciprocal consequences in the Ottoman empire that were even more meaningful and durable: “The impact in France was temporary; it manifested itself as a fashion that gradually faded away. In the Ottoman Empire, the impact was permanent.”17

(p.61) The Ottoman sultan Ahmed III came to the throne in 1703, after the peace of Karlowitz, and reigned until 1730. He had broad interests in art, literature, and gardening, presiding over the so-called Tulip Period in Constantinople in the 1720s. The gardening of the Tulip Period was partly influenced by French horticultural style, which became known in the Ottoman empire following the embassy of Mehmed Efendi. He brought home some knowledge of things French, while leaving behind a French fascination with things Turkish. In Arlequin Grand Vizir, at the Saint-Germain fair of 1713, the fictive sultan asked Arlequin to reform the empire:

  • Puisque vous nous faites la grace
  • De venir reformer ces lieux,
  • Du Grand Visir prenés la place.

  • Since you do us the grace
  • Of coming to reform this place,
  • Take the job of the Grand Vizier.18

The year that Mehmed Efendi went to France, 1720, was around the time of the establishment of the first printing press in Constantinople, the work of the Hungarian convert Ibrahim Müteferrika. While European operatic stages were open to the representation of a sympathetically “generous Turk” in the early eighteenth century, it was also true that during the reign of Ahmed III the Ottomans were increasingly interested in European culture.19

Western influence became a vector of modernization in the East, while the influence of Turquerie lasted through the eighteenth century and affected several arenas of French culture, beginning with the visual and decorative arts. The popular interest in Turkish theatrical themes at the Paris fairs was complemented, after 1720, by elite Turquerie, an interest in Turkish costumes and styles inspired by the embassy of Mehmed Efendi. The Turkish ambassador himself observed that “as no one in Paris had ever seen either a Turk, or the dress of a Turk, we were observed with admiring eyes.” According to Mehmed Efendi, “The desire of people to view us was such that they would make excursions from four or five-hour distances to the riverside to watch us. Striving to get in front of each other, they would fall into the water.” One Frenchwoman, the wife of a former French ambassador to Istanbul, chose to dress in Ottoman costume in order to entertain Mehmed Efendi. This fashion soon made its mark on the visual arts, as subjects posed for portraits in Turkish clothing, while painters chose Ottoman subjects that involved turbans, plumes, divans, floor cushions, and tassels. Art historian Marianne Roland Michel has noted the influence of Charles de Ferriol’s collection of (p.62) engravings of the peoples of the Levant, published in 1707 and 1708; the images were based on the paintings of Jean-Baptiste Van Mour and depicted a great variety of Ottoman figures in their appropriate costumes.20 The publication of these engravings also coincided with the first appearance in 1704 of Galland’s translation of the Thousand and One Nights, to which the “Oriental” costumes seemed vaguely relevant. These tales became a European phenomenon, with an English translation in 1706 known as the Arabian Nights, a German edition in 1712, and an Italian version in 1722 published in Venice.21

Even more closely associated with the embassy of Mehmed Efendi in 1720–21 was the publication in 1721 of Montesquieu’s Persian Letters, a foundational work of the European Enlightenment. This epistolary fiction explored the reciprocal perspectives of European Christians and Oriental Muslims at the moment of the Ottoman embassy, and acknowledged the rational validity of the Muslim perspective on Europe. The work was immediately translated from French into English in 1722, and would have shaped the cultural context for Handel’s Tamerlano in 1724. In Paris in 1724 there also appeared a new edition of the score for Campra’s L’Europe galante, presumably in association with new performances, including the Turkish act.22 The Ottoman embassy helped to stimulate this interest in the Muslim world in the 1720s.

Mehmed Efendi, who was himself taken to the opera in France to see Lully’s tragedy Thésée, appreciated the crowds who came to watch him, as if it were they and not he who constituted the spectacle—and even a comic spectacle as they pushed one another into the water. The French genres, of course, were not familiar to the Turks, and it was reported that one of Mehmed Efendi’s men, while attending Thésée, “was not able to prevent himself from laughing during the whole performance.” Göçek suggests that in this Franco-Turkish encounter both sides were watching each other with a sense of theatrical appreciation.23

The figure of the “generous Turk” took center stage when Rameau’s Les Indes galantes was performed in Paris in 1735, the same year that Vivaldi’s Bajazet was introduced in Verona. In fact, a few months after Les Indes galantes, the Paris Opéra presented yet another work with a Turkish subject in that same year: the opera Scanderberg, composed by François Francoeur and François Rebel, dramatizing the encounter between the fifteenth-century Albanian warrior Scanderbeg and the Ottoman sultan Murad II. If 1735 (p.63) was thus a year of multiple Ottoman subjects at the opera, it was also a year when Russia and the Ottoman empire went to war again, with Austria later joining in—which guaranteed that singing Turks would be invested with a certain degree of current political interest. Though Venice remained neutral, the Habsburg and Venetian states that bordered the Ottoman empire relayed the news of the ongoing war to the rest of Europe. Historian Orhan Koloğlu has observed that for obtaining Turkish news in Paris in the eighteenth century, “the two most important cities in Europe that played the role of centers of information for the Gazette were Vienna and Venice.”24 The Parisians thus followed Ottoman affairs at one remove from the Viennese and Venetians.

The Ottoman military effort in the 1730s was notably assisted by guidance in artillery from the renegade French officer Claude-Alexandre de Bonneval. He had served Prince Eugene in the taking of Belgrade in 1717 but then defected from Habsburg service, converted to Islam, and served the sultan in his war against the Habsburgs. As the Ottoman wars of the 1730s were also intricately related to the simultaneous War of the Polish Succession, the Ottomans were fighting in tacit cooperation with the French. France and the Ottoman empire both supported the same (ultimately unsuccessful) candidate for the Polish throne, Stanisław Leszczyński, whose daughter was the queen of France.

Art historian Nebahat Avcioğlu notes that Leszczyński expressed his aspirations to power by having himself painted in the costume of an Ottoman sultan, in the style of Ahmed III. In 1737, when Leszczyński had lost Poland but gained in compensation the duchy of Lorraine, he built at his palace in Lunéville a kiosk in the Ottoman style, acknowledging his own history of friendly Turkish relations while advancing the architectural progress of European Turquerie.25 From a French perspective, both policy and culture combined to create a sympathy for the Ottomans that manifested itself operatically in the figure of the generous Turk.

In 1732 Voltaire’s drama Zaïre was performed at the Comédie-Française, just three years before the first performance of Rameau’s opera-ballet Les Indes galantes at the Académie Royale in 1735. Both would be hugely successful in France and influential all over Europe for the rest of the century. Zaïre was a drama of the Crusades, set in thirteenth-century Jerusalem, and the central figure of Sultan Orosmane, therefore, could not have been an (p.64) Ottoman Turk, though he was Muslim, Middle Eastern, possibly Mameluke, certainly sultanic—and therefore suggestive of Ottomanism and related to the contemporary spirit of Turquerie. Orosmane was an almost fully enlightened Muslim ruler, beyond religious prejudice in the spirit of the eighteenth century. The more narrow-minded Christians of the drama, however, attempt to persuade Zaïre, the sultan’s slave who loves and is loved by him, that she should not marry a Muslim, since she was born a Christian in the age of the Crusades. Orosmane ends by murdering Zaïre out of mistaken jealousy—his tragic flaw, with the tragedy probably modeled in some degree on Shakespeare’s Othello.

The relevance of Voltaire’s Zaïre of 1732 for Rameau’s “Le Turc généreux” in 1735 was partly a matter of contrasting genres: the resonance of tragedy in a Muslim context for drama, even as comedy was about to establish its generic dominance for operas about Turks. Both Voltaire’s declaiming Sultan Orosmane and Rameau’s singing Osman Pasha were sympathetically represented on the French stage, but their virtues were different. Orosmane’s jealousy could not ultimately be considered to be generous, while Osman’s generosity acknowledged that he was not the romantic hero of his own story. He merely permitted the Christian lovers to live happily ever after. What really linked the two works was the context of Turquerie in the 1730s and the fact that Voltaire’s tragedy was also a drama of the seraglio: “La scène est au sérail de Jérusalem.”26 The costumes and staging thus became matters of contemporary Turquerie, in Zaïre as in “Le Turc généreux,” encouraging the construction of theatrical kiosks like those that Leszczyński built at Lunéville. The problem of Muslim male authority over captive slaves in the seraglio, introduced by the Enlightenment as political parable in Montesquieu’s Persian Letters and appropriated by Voltaire for exploring the tragic implications of crusading religious conflict, was about to become the theme for countless variations in eighteenth-century operatic comedy.

Rameau’s Generous Turk: “Remember Osman”

Rameau’s “Le Turc généreux,” first performed in Paris in August 1735, was closely contemporary with Vivaldi’s Bajazet, performed during Carnival 1735 in Verona. The contrast in operatic genre between tragedy and comedy was clearly evident in the dynamics of captivity, which were neatly inverted from (p.65) Vivaldi to Rameau. The drama of Bajazet, with its first operatic setting dating back to 1689, represented an Ottoman sultan in tragic captivity, but “Le Turc généreux” would inaugurate a tradition of operatic comedies in which the Turk himself was the master of captives and slaves. His mastery, over the course of the opera, would be ingeniously undermined and overturned—possibly in the end with his own generous acquiescence. This structural inversion from captive to captor did not therefore necessarily place the operatic Turk in an unsympathetic light, though it usually underlined the limits of his authority. As an operatic plot it also fit some aspects of Mediterranean social circumstances, for the taking of European captives by Muslim corsairs was a fact of maritime life, and Robert Davis has even estimated that there could have been a million European captives taken between 1530 and 1780. Though such captivity was declining as a phenomenon by the eighteenth century, Linda Colley estimates that six thousand British subjects were taken captive between the 1670s and the 1730s—the period that roughly concluded with Handel’s Tamerlano in London—and more than two thousand of those captives were ransomed and redeemed.27 Certainly, a scenario of European captives in Ottoman lands was far more plausible in the eighteenth century than the case of a captive Ottoman sultan.

The French Enlightenment, guided by Montesquieu in the Spirit of the Laws, was interested in political power in the Islamic world and associated the Orient with despotism, but in the Persian Letters Montesquieu also studied Islamic despotism on the domestic level, as exercised in the harem of Usbek in Isfahan. Eighteenth-century drama and opera took up this latter concern, dramatizing the absolute power of Islamic princes over their wives and captives and judging the Turk according to his capacity for magnanimity. Voltaire, who made Zaïre into a tragedy of the seraglio, would later conclude his universal history, Essai sur les Moeurs, with the observation that “the greatest difference between us and the Orientals is the manner in which we treat women.”28 Operatic scenarios concerning captive women in the seraglio thus put Ottoman masters to the test of European civilization.

Rameau’s Les Indes galantes in 1735 offered an explicitly non-European spectacle, for the gallant “Indies” of the title referred to the two Indies, East and West, indicating Asia and America. The Turkish act, “Le Turc généreux,” was followed by a Peruvian act, and then a Persian act called “Les fleurs”; finally, an Amazonian act entitled “Les sauvages” was added in 1736. The title (p.66) Les Indes galantes referred back to Campra’s opera-ballet L’Europe galante of 1697. Campra had also included a Turkish act but accompanied by three other acts with gallant European scenarios: French, Spanish, and Italian. Rameau removed Turkey from gallant Europe and located it among the lands of the gallant Indies, emphatically non-European. This offered an alternative vision of Turkey’s place on the global map, suggesting a more exotic relation to Europe in the spirit of French Turquerie. Rameau’s Les Indes galantes was often revived until 1761, and Campra’s L’Europe galante until 1775.29 This meant that the respective Turkish acts of both operas persisted in the operatic repertory, and during the eighteenth century Turkey appeared simultaneously in European and non-European operatic contexts, depending upon whether the opera-ballet of Campra or Rameau was being performed.

Les Indes galantes affirmed that the power of love was global in its sway, from Persia to Peru, a civilizing influence even among savages. Yet Rameau and his librettist Louis Fuzelier (who had also written Arlequin Grand Vizir for the Paris fairs) clearly did not regard the Turkish pasha as a savage. The setting was “the gardens of Osman Pasha, bounded by the sea”—perhaps in tribute to the gardens of the Tulip Period in the reign of Ahmed III. According to Fuzelier’s preface to the libretto, the figure of Osman Pasha was based on a true Turkish character, the Ottoman Grand Vizier of 1731–32, Topal Osman Pasha, who had recently died in battle against the Persians:

I hope it will be agreed that the respectable model I have chosen for my virtuous pasha authorizes the traits I have given to the copy: a Turk like Topal Osman is not an imaginary hero, and when he loves he is susceptible to a nobler and more delicate tenderness than that of the Orientals.30

The librettist thus explicitly declared that his exotic Oriental pasha ceased to be both exotic and Oriental under the influence of love, as demonstrated in the opera. Either love made him European, or perhaps, from the perspective of the Enlightenment, he was really European all along.

Osman Pasha loves his French captive Emilie, who has been kidnapped by Mediterranean pirates. The pasha urges her to forget the man she loves and enjoy a life of endless pleasures. She replies, in the spirit of Montesquieu, “I suffer, under your laws, a second slavery.” The only “laws” of despotism are those of absolute submission to the despot, but this Turkish despot is full of tender sensibility, rendered with great pathos by Rameau’s rococo lyricism. (p.67) Osman Pasha cannot bear to see his captive weep:

  • C’est trop m’accabler par vos pleurs!
  • Cessez d’entretenir d’inutiles ardeurs!
  • You overwhelm me too much by your tears!
  • Stop preserving useless ardors!31

The music suggested that his sympathy was deeply felt—and also deeply sung, since the part of Osman Pasha was written for a basso, the lowest male voice, and the voice that would hereafter become almost obligatory for the casting of Turks in European opera.

Emilie denounces Osman Pasha as a barbarian—“barbare!”—but when the next tempest brings her own European beloved to the scene, the pasha proves that he is not at all a barbarian.32 He gives the Europeans their liberty and many precious gifts besides, demonstrating his magnanimity and generosity as the “generous Turk.” He momentarily abdicates his despotism and surrenders his power over his captives, who salute his virtue: “O sublime vertu!33 Virtue was presumed to be neither Christian nor Muslim but universal in the spirit of the early Enlightenment, and governed by profound sensibility of the heart.

The sailors dance the “tambourin,” the rhythmic structure set by Rameau in “gay” semiquavers.34 The mood of gaiety is then interrupted by Osman himself, declaiming “with grief” (avec douleur).35 In six bars, he sends the reunited lovers on their way, and his musical line is one of gently poignant resignation:

  • J’entends vos matelots;
  • Allez sur vos rivages,
  • Mes ordres sont donnés …
  • Allez, vivez contents.
  • Souvenez-vous d’Osman …

  • I hear your sailors;
  • Go to your shores,
  • My orders have been given …
  • Go and live content.
  • Remember Osman …36

The final musical phrase descends a delicate half step, as if he doubts that Emilie will really remember his name. The Paris Opéra, however, would certainly remember Osman, for the piece continued to be performed until 1761, while in Vienna, in 1758, the choreographer Franz Hilverding created a ballet called Le Turc généreux that was loosely related to the story from Les Indes galantes.37 It was in Vienna, in 1782, that Mozart would create another magnanimous (p.68)

The Generous TurkCaptive Christians and Operatic Comedy in Paris

J’entends vos matelots … Souvenez vous d’Osman”—the sentimental farewell of Osman Pasha, the generous Turk emancipating his Christian captives, in the act titled “Le Turc généreux” from Rameau’s Les Indes galantes of 1735. “I hear your sailors; go to your shores; my orders have been given; go and live content. Remember Osman.” With the descending half step in the final phrase, Osman effaces himself musically and dramatically before withdrawing from the stage altogether and removing himself from the conclusion of the act that was actually named for him, the generous Turk.

Ottoman pasha, who would likewise liberate his European captives at the conclusion of The Abduction from the Seraglio.

Rameau’s Osman Pasha is so exquisitely sensitive to the romance of his former captives that he finally effaces himself completely and exits the stage, lest his unhappiness dampen the high spirits of their happy ending, and perhaps also to protect his own pride:

  • C’est trop à vos regards offrir mon trouble extrême,
  • Je vous dois mon absence, et la dois à moi-même.
  • It is too much to offer my extreme distress to your gazes,
  • I owe you my absence, and owe it to myself.38

(p.69) Like Bajazet, subtracted from the joyous finale by his suicide, so Osman Pasha also withdraws from the scene and from the vocal ensemble. There is a loving duet for the soprano and tenor lovers, a chorus for the Provençal company that will sail with them, and a happy melody labeled “tune for the African slaves.”39

These slaves of Osman Pasha remain behind with him, still subject to his despotism, but they nevertheless celebrate the departure of the Europeans and presumably wish them well. Since the melody has no words in the libretto or score, the slaves now only dance their enthusiasm as ballet.40 Led by the departing soprano Emilie, the chorus of African slaves then sings a final farewell:

  • Partez! On languit sur le rivage, partez,
  • Tendres coeurs embarquez-vous!
  • Depart! people languish on the shore, depart,
  • Tender hearts, embark!41

The lovers embark, but the slaves remain to languish on the pasha’s shores. At the conclusion of the slaves’ chorus there is a final rhythmic “tambourin,” presumably danced by the slaves, since everyone else has departed. One tender heart remains, of course—Osman Pasha, who so discreetly withdraws to spare the lovers the sight of his grief—but there is no suggestion in the opera that the tender sensibility of the “generous Turk” will extend to the emancipation of his other slaves.

The actual historical redemption of captive slaves from Ottoman masters was rarely a manifestation of Turkish generosity, but rather a strictly financial matter of ransom payments. The Church of England sponsored “charity briefs” to raise money through individual contributions for the ransom of captives.42 In Catholic Europe, religious orders and confraternities played a large role in raising ransom money; the Mercedarians and Trinitarians were active in this regard, and in Rome the Vatican encouraged the role of the confraternity of Santa Maria del Gonfalone. In Denmark, on the Baltic, the crown established a “Slave Fund” in 1715 to ransom Mediterranean captives. In Venice the republican state played a supervisory role in raising money for ransoms, and in Sicily, separated by only a hundred miles of sea from North Africa, public tax money was designated for redeeming captives. Some samples of statistical evidence suggest that after five years of captivity, as many as (p.70) 75 percent of captives may have been ransomed, so there were always former captives present in European society to tell (and sometimes even publish) their stories.43

After redemption the emancipated captives played a role in celebratory religious processions and services, and historian Linda Colley has outlined the course of the French ceremonies:

The first took place in the port of re-entry, usually Marseilles. The procession of redeemed captives then followed a traditional route that had evolved over centuries: Toulon, Avignon, Lyon, and so on to the sacred heart of France, Paris itself. At each and every stopping-off place, there were ceremonies in which local elites participated and ordinary folk watched. Bells rang. Soldiers assembled. Strewn flowers were crushed into scent under milling crowds … And at the heart of it all were the white-robed captives.44

Such spectacles, accompanied by elements of ecclesiastical music, were even incipiently operatic, anticipating in public spaces the celebratory concluding chorus and ballet that Rameau staged at the Paris Opéra in 1735. In Italian redemption processions there were sometimes trumpets and drums, sometimes choral singing, and in one case, in Milan in 1764, a military band playing music in the Turkish or Janissary style.45 In London in 1751 the display of redeemed captives was made into a theatrical event on the stage of Covent Garden. Recently ransomed from Morocco, the former captives were once again put in rags and chains as part of the show. As recounted by Linda Colley, “In words, song, and mime, the enthralled habitués of Covent Garden were informed that these were the same loathsome irons and gaping rags in which the men had labored for so long in Muslim North Africa.”46 Eighteenth-century operas of Ottoman captivity were partly inspired by such spectacles with their lurid claims to authenticity.

Rameau’s operatic account of the generous Turk was followed by a scenario among the Incas of Peru, but after that there was a return to the Islamic Orient for “Les fleurs,” set in the gardens of Persia. This Persian story was closely related to the theme of the earlier Turkish story, inasmuch as both concerned love between Muslim masters and their female slaves. In “Les fleurs” the Persian masters are in love, each with the other’s slave, so that the happy ending can be achieved by exchanging slaves. In Campra’s L’Europe galante of 1697, there was no doubt that a slave could love her master, and Zaide sang of her (p.71) love for Zuliman with melancholy baroque intensity. In 1735 the weighty issue of slavery was aired by Rameau in a duet of lighthearted rococo charm. First, the slave Zaïre (named for Voltaire’s heroine) poses the question:

  • Peut-on aimer dans l’esclavage?
  • C’est en augmenter la rigueur.

  • Can one love in slavery?
  • It increases the harshness.47

It was of course a powerfully modern and enlightened question: whether it was possible for real love to subsist where one partner held absolute despotic power over the other who was nothing more than a slave. Yet it was answered, by Prince Tacmas, in the decidedly unmodern spirit that Fuzelier and Rameau seemed to attribute to the Islamic Orient:

  • On doit aimer dans l’esclavage,
  • C’est en adoucir la rigueur.

  • One must love in slavery,
  • It softens the harshness.48

Did it mean that she ought to love, so as to soften the harshness of slavery, or that she was compelled to love, since she was, after all, a slave?

The answer was evaded in the most exquisite rococo lyricism as the two voices, tenor and soprano, repeated their respective verses while harmonizing with one another. Rameau offered a “gallant” perspective on Oriental despotism and slavery, represented in Oriental terms as the principles of supreme erotic pleasure, and celebrated in the end with a ballet of the Persian flowers. Emilie, however, in the Turkish act, is not resigned to romantic enslavement, and her European loyalty to the man she loves compels the Turkish pasha himself to rise to a European standard of civilization, a generous Turk in the context of the gallant Indies.

Scanderbeg and the Sultan: The Ottoman-Albanian Encounter at the Opéra

While Les Indes galantes celebrated Turkey and Persia together for their gallantry in 1735, in fact the Ottomans and Persians were at war with one another in the early 1730s. Topal Osman Pasha (the real-life model for Rameau’s Osman Pasha) was killed in that war in 1733, and the fighting ended in 1735 with a Persian victory that brought territorial advances against the Turks in the Caucasus. In that same year war began between the Ottomans and the Russians, who attacked the Crimea, further dramatizing Ottoman vulnerability (p.72) at the very moment that Vivaldi’s Bajazet and Rameau’s Osman Pasha held their respective stages in Verona and Paris. Les Indes galantes opened in Paris on August 23, 1735, and before the end of the year, on October 27, yet another Ottoman subject was brought to the operatic stage in Paris, a full five-act opera set at the Ottoman court of the fifteenth century: Scanderberg, composed jointly by François Francoeur and François Rebel.

The historical Scanderbeg (not Scanderberg) was a Christian Albanian prince, taken hostage by the Ottomans and raised as a Muslim; he served in the Ottoman military before turning against Sultan Murad II in the 1440s and leading the Albanian resistance to Ottoman domination. In the opera of 1735 the figure of Scanderbeg represented the complex relation between Ottoman Turkish sultans and their Ottoman European subjects, inhabitants of the lands that were labeled on eighteenth-century maps as “Turquie en Europe.”

Vivaldi had composed an earlier opera on the subject, Scanderbeg, performed in Florence in 1718, the year of the peace of Passarowitz.49 The libretto was by the same Antonio Salvi who wrote the text of Il gran Tamerlano for Alessandro Scarlatti in 1706. Vivaldi’s opera (for which the music has been mostly lost) was set at the Ottoman siege of Croia (Krujë, in Albania today), successfully defended by Scanderbeg against Murad (“Amurat,” in the libretto). Scanderbeg was designated in the cast as the “King of Albania,” but was also understood to be in some sense “Greek,” summoned by destiny, according to the libretto, to liberate Greece from the “tyrant of Asia.”50 Scanderbeg was sung by a castrato, while Murad, his Ottoman nemesis, was sung by a tenor.

Each character holds a captive, Murad holding Scanderbeg’s wife and Scanderbeg holding Murad’s daughter, and this custody becomes a test of civilization, which the sultan notably fails as he attempts to force himself on his captive. Scanderbeg’s virtue is dedicated to the pursuit of love and glory, as expressed in a brilliant aria:

  • Con palme, ed allori
  • M’invita la Gloria,
  • Con serti di fiori
  • M’alletta l’amor.

  • With palms and laurels
  • Glory invites me,
  • With garlands of flowers
  • Love attracts me.51

The sultan, by contrast, is deceitful, ignoble, and barbarous, vices that he almost extols in song:


  • Son Tiranno, son spietato,
  • Cosi fosse sempre stato.

  • I am a tyrant, I am merciless,
  • And so I have always been.52

The final Albanian chorus celebrates the defeat of the sultan and the return of peace, which was appropriate for the moment of Passarowitz in 1718 but radically different from the dominant theme of operatic sympathy for the Ottomans, as expressed in Piovene’s contemporary libretto about Bajazet.

From Vivaldi’s Venetian perspective Albania would not have seemed alien or remote, but would rather have evoked a long history of Venetian-Adriatic relations and imperial rule. The vestigial territory of “Albania Veneta” was still on the map in the eighteenth century, though most of Albania had been long subject to the Ottomans. Albania, however, would have seemed rather more remote from the perspective of Paris, and the French opera Scanderberg in 1735 followed a completely different scenario, showing the hero at an earlier stage of his life as a captive and hostage at Murad’s Ottoman court. The libretto was partly credited to Antoine Houdar de La Motte, who was also the librettist for Campra’s L’Europe galante back in 1697. It is notable that La Motte’s libretto for Scanderberg (still incomplete and unperformed at his death in 1731) dated back to 1711, the same year that Piovene created his libretto for Tamerlano in Venice.53 Francoeur and Rebel, the joint composers of Scanderberg in 1735, belonged to a younger generation. Not only musical collaborators—inspired first by Lully and later influenced by Rameau—they also formed a powerful partnership in the administration of the Paris Opéra right up until the 1770s.

The plot of Scanderberg in Paris made little sense in terms of the hero’s biography, which would have been in any event largely unknown to the French public in 1735. The historical Scanderbeg was kept as a youthful hostage at the Ottoman court of Murad. In the opera they are both in love with the same Serbian princess, punningly named “Servilie” in the libretto, and she too is being held at the Ottoman court. The leading sultana of the sultan’s harem, Roxane, is also in love with Scanderbeg, though he prefers Servilie. The court was probably located in Edirne, as Murad’s reign preceded the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople by his son Mehmed II in 1453. Scanderbeg’s subjection to Murad inverted the drama of Bajazet and Tamerlane, as now the Ottoman sultan played the part of the master instead of the captive. The Ottoman role of Murad (“Amurat” again in the libretto) was sung by the famous French basso Claude-Louis Chassé de Chinais, who had played an Incan role (p.74) in Les Indes galantes and was “arguably the greatest male singing actor of the eighteenth century in Paris.”54

The role of Scanderbeg was sung by a high tenor (haute-contre), Denis-François Tribou, who also played a Persian prince in Les Indes galantes. In the opening scene Scanderbeg anticipates his escape from the Ottomans, singing in elegant French verse:

  • O Nuit, hâte-toi donc de triompher du jour!
  • J’entends la gloire qui m’appelle!
  • O Night! hasten to triumph over the day!
  • I hear glory calling to me!55

His sentiments are generally noble, though he admits that he is also motivated by an impulse of Albanian “vengeance” against the Turks.

Murad, meanwhile, courts the Serbian princess, while a chorus of Greek women in Servilie’s service urges her to surrender herself: “Cedez à l’Amour.” Roxane, now jealous of Servilie on two counts (since the Serbian princess is beloved by both Murad and Scanderbeg), plots the murder of the sultan. Scanderbeg refuses to act dishonorably by joining in the plot against the sultan, and instead fights on Murad’s behalf against the treacherous Grand Vizier and a chorus of Janissaries.

Roxane finally denounces Scanderbeg and Servilie to the sultan, who becomes furiously jealous in the manner of Voltaire’s Sultan Orosmane, from Zaïre. Murad sings:

  • Regnez Haine, Fureur,
  • Regnez jalouse Rage …

  • Reign hate and fury,
  • Reign jealous rage …56

The Ottoman sultan Murad thus brought together the most important operatic aspects of the singing Turk, who gave voice to the extremes of absolute power and unrestrained emotion.

In the final act, the scene presented—perhaps for the first time in the history of opera—a great mosque, in which Murad was about to marry Servilie. The set was designed by Giovanni Servandoni, who had also worked on Les Indes galantes. The Mercure de France described this set for the last act of Scanderberg as a great peristyle of classical arcades leading to a domed mosque that was not quite classical: “The peristyle is entirely of the Corinthian order, according to the most precise rules, but there is a departure from (p.75) those rules in the architecture of the mosque, first, to suggest that in the Orient where the arts are not cultivated as in Europe, one does not build with the same regularity; second, to render the place in some fashion more alien [plus étranger].” The doors could also be opened, as the act progressed, to enable the audience to see inside the mosque, where elaborate decoration took priority over architecture: “The whole interior of the mosque is encrusted with precious stones of different colors and different kinds, like lapis lazuli, jasper, agate, alabaster, and others fit to enrich in a striking [éclatant] manner a magnificent temple.” The interior was lit by hanging lamps decorated with ostrich eggs—“according to the custom of the Orientals.” The Mercure noted that those who inspected Servandoni’s stage designs from up close could see “with astonishment the mechanics of this brilliant piece whose ingenious art makes a space quite restricted in itself appear to be an extremely vast place.” The mosque designed for the final act of Scanderberg seemed to “surpass” all other stage designs by Servandoni.57

At the dramatic climax of the act the mufti steps forward in the mosque in the name of “the irritated Prophet” (le Prophète irrité)—perhaps the first musical mufti in Paris since Lully’s mock-mufti in the Turkish ceremony of Le bourgeois gentilhomme. In Scanderberg, the mufti is to be taken entirely seriously, as he objects to the marriage between Muslim and Christian, between Murad and Servilie. “The universe is subject to you,” the mufti tells the sultan, “but you are subject to the law.” Murad rages against Scanderbeg, his rival for Servilie, but she then kills herself in a gesture intended to reconcile the two men. Scanderbeg is about to follow her by killing himself, too, when the sultan intervenes, seizes the dagger, and sings the final lines of the opera:

  • Arrête, es tu content barbare!
  • Je ne puis soutenir ce spectacle d’horreur.
  • Loin de moi, va pleurer notre commun malheur;
  • Que s’il se peut la gloire le répare.
  • Stop, are you content, barbarian!
  • I cannot bear this spectacle of horror.
  • Far from me, go weep over our common misfortune;
  • That glory, if it can, may repair.58

Murad seeks to show himself more civilized than his “barbarian” captive. It is too late for him to play the generous Turk and send the originally Christian (p.76) lovers off together, but he generously gives Scanderbeg his freedom to pursue a glory that will in fact be achieved at the expense of the Ottomans in defense of Albania. The opera represents Murad as a relatively enlightened figure—like Voltaire’s Orosmane—struggling to resist the religious prejudices of his own Janissaries and muftis and to contain the violent impulses of his own jealousy. If, however, Scanderberg in 1735 was supposed to comment allusively on the political prospects for Ottoman subjects in southeastern Europe—Serbs and Albanians—the wars of the 1730s, including the Turkish reconquest of Belgrade, showed that the Ottomans were by no means completely debilitated or ready to be expelled from “Turquie en Europe.”

Conclusion: Scanderbeg Redux

The Scanderberg of Francoeur and Rebel in 1735 was undeniably tragic, with the suicide of Servilie, but after that, Murad proved himself to be, belatedly, a generous Turk in his final intervention to save and emancipate Scanderbeg. Similarly, Handel’s Tamerlano was a tragedy, with the suicide of Bajazet, but ended in the reconciliation of Tamerlane and Andronico and the return of peace, “crowned with lilies and roses.” It was perhaps no surprise that the libretto of Scanderberg, conceived by La Motte in 1711 and therefore contemporary with Piovene’s libretto for Tamerlano, should have been similarly tragic in its musical and dramatic impact. Yet if the happy romance of Rameau’s “Le Turc généreux” were to be contrasted with the fatal tragedy of Scanderberg as the two operatic alternatives of 1735, there would be no doubt that Scanderberg belonged to the operatic past while “Le Turc généreux” pointed toward an operatic future full of comedies of captivity. In fact, Scanderberg disappeared from the repertory entirely after 1735, until it was rediscovered for one single performance in 1763. That unique revival only confirmed the triumph of comedy for operas on Ottoman subjects, because the libretto was adapted to eliminate the tragedy and provide a thoroughly happy ending.

The performance of 1763 took place at the Fontainebleau palace in the presence of King Louis XV and Queen Marie Leszczyńska (the daughter of Stanisław Leszczyński). Still denominated as a tragedy, the performance of 1763 managed to reach a happy ending: Murad stops Servilie from killing herself at the last minute and then declines to take Scanderbeg’s life. Instead the sultan begs their pardon:

  • (p.77) Pardonnez-moi vos maux, que l’hymen les répare.
  • Je serai malheureux; mais je serois barbare …
  • Pardon me for your harms, which marriage may repair.
  • I will be unhappy; but otherwise I would be a barbarian …59

It may not have been altogether comfortable for Louis XV to watch a reigning monarch beg for pardon, but he could have reassured himself in thinking that a Muslim sultan was a case entirely different from his own. In fact, the figure of the generous Turk was intended precisely as a mirror for enlightened European princes, and Servilie explicitly thanks Murad for his “generous heart” (coeur généreux). Murad then echoes the melancholy dignity of the generous Turk in Les Indes galantes, singing:

  • Partez, dans vos Etats,
  • Ramenez vos sujets …

  • Depart, to your countries,
  • Bring back your subjects …60

With this gesture of generosity the sultan turns and enters the mosque, resolving to respect his own Islamic law, and he is followed by the Muslim imams and the Turkish people.

The stage is left to Scanderbeg and Servilie with their dancing suites of Albanians and Serbians. Scanderbeg sings, “Qu’un beau jour renaisse sans nuage” (May a beautiful day be cloudlessly reborn). The Serbian and Albanian dancers join in a ballet of harmonious celebration, naturally unable to foresee the modern history of Serbian-Albanian enmity. In the original 1735 version the program of dances specified sultanas to dance in act 1, Turkish men and Greek women in act 2, Janissaries and sipahis in act 3, Italians, Asiatics, and Scythians in act 4, and odalisques in act 5. The program for 1763 at Fontainebleau specified, for act 5, Serbians and Albanians (instead of odalisques), thus transforming the opera even more fully into a drama of the Ottoman empire and the subject peoples of southeastern Europe.61 Those peoples were happily liberated at Fontainebleau in 1763, though the first Serbian uprising against the Ottomans would not come until 1804, and Albanian independence was not achieved until 1912.

Murad sends the Serbians and Albanians at the Ottoman court back to their homelands, thus seeming to suggest an implicit renunciation of Ottoman imperial rule. In this regard, it is worth noting that 1763 represented the imperial nadir of French power in the eighteenth century, and the triumphant (p.78) British terms of the peace of Paris in February (including the definitive loss of Canada to the British) may have conditioned an imperial reticence in the reviving and revising of Scanderberg in October at Fontainebleau. Perhaps there was a lesson to be learned from the Ottomans about maintaining national dignity in the face of imperial recession. In the operatic encounter of Scanderbeg and Murad, as in that of Tamerlane and Bajazet, the humbling of the Ottoman sultan was accompanied by the musical demonstration of Ottoman dignity.


(1.) Molière, Le bourgeois gentilhomme, ed. Jean Thoraval (Paris: Bordas, 1984), 100.

(2.) Georgia Cowart, The Triumph of Pleasure: Louis XIV and the Politics of Spectacle (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008), 101–2 and 112–13.

(3.) Molière, Le bourgeois gentilhomme, 98; Michèle Longino, Orientalism in French Classical Drama (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 111–15, 138–43; Françoise Dartois-Lapeyre, “Turcs et turqueries dans les représentations en musique,” in Turcs et turqueries: XVIe-XVIIIe siècles (Paris: Presses de l’Université Paris-Sorbonne, 2009), 181–82; see also Nicholas Dew, Orientalism in Louis XIV’s France (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009); Miriam Whaples, “Early Exoticism Revisited,” in The Exotic in Western Music, ed. Jonathan Bellman (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1998), 12–13.

(4.) James Anthony, “L’Europe galante,” The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, ed. Stanley Sadie (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), vol. 2, 87–88; L’Europe galante, http://www.musicologie.org/Biographies/campra_andre.html.

(5.) Dartois-Lapeyre, “Turcs et turqueries dans les représentations en musique,” 189–93; Adrienne Ward, Pagodas in Play: China on the Eighteenth-Century Italian Opera Stage (Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 2010), 173–79; Thomas Betzwieser, Exotismus und “Türkenoper” in der französichen Musik des Ancien Régime (Laaber: Laaber-Verlag, 1993), 202–3, 208–11, 226–31.

(6.) Bent Holm, The Taming of the Turk: Ottomans on the Danish Stage 1596–1896 (Vienna: Hollitzer, 2014), 123–25.

(7.) C. D. Rouillard, “Un ‘Arlequin Grand Visir’ joué à Paris en 1687 et ses échos au théâtre de la foire,” Revue de la Société d’Histoire du Théâtre 28:3 (1976), 203–19; Dartois-Lapeyre, (p.416) “Turcs et turqueries dans les représentations en musique,” 190; Holm, Taming of the Turk, 125–31.

(8.) Arlequin Mahomet: Pièce d’un acte, par Monsieur le S[age], representée à la Foire de S. Laurent (Paris, 1714); Daniel Heartz, “Terpsichore at the Fair: Old and New Dance Airs in Two Vaudeville Comedies by Lesage,” in From Garrick to Gluck: Essays on Opera in the Age of Enlightenment (Hillsdale, NY: Pendragon Press, 2004), 142.

(9.) Daniel Heartz, Music in European Capitals: The Galant Style 1720–1780 (New York: Norton, 2003), 701–2; Thomas Crow, Painters and Public Life in Eighteenth-Century Paris (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987), 65–66; Dartois-Lapeyre, “Turcs et turqueries dans les représentations en musique,” 189–93; see also Betzwieser, Exotismus und “Türkenoper” in der französichen Musik des Ancien Régime, 201–17.

(10.) Arlequin sultane favorite, pièce en trois actes, par Monsieur le T[ellier], representée à la Foire de S. Germain (Paris, 1715), act 1, scene 2.

(11.) Ibid., act 1, scene 3.

(12.) Ibid., act 2, scene 12.

(13.) Ibid., act 2, scene 12.

(14.) Ibid., act 1, scene 7.

(15.) Ibid., act 3, scene 9.

(16.) Arlequin au sérail: Comédie en un acte en prose, representée pour la première fois le 29 mai 1747, par M. Saint-Foix (Paris, 1747); Arlequin esclave à Baghdad, ou le calife généreux: Comédie en un acte, en prose et vaudevilles, par le citoyen T. L. Vallier (Paris, An VII, 1798–99); Arlequin odalisque: Comédie-parade en un acte, en prose, melée de vaudevilles, par Citoyen Auger (Paris, An VIII, 1800); Bent Holm, “The Staging of the Turk: The Turk in the Danish Theatre of the Eighteenth Century,” in Ottoman Empire and European Theatre, vol. 1, The Age of Mozart and Selim III, ed. Michael Hüttler and Hans Weidinger (Vienna: Hollitzer, 2013), 408; Matthias Pernerstorfer, “The Second Turkish Siege of Vienna (1683) Reflected in Its First Centenary,” in Age of Mozart and Selim III, 526–27; Johann Heiss, “Die Ereignisse zum hundertjährigen Jubiläum 1783,” in Geschichtspolitik und Türkenbelagerung, ed. Johannes Feichtinger and Johann Heiss (Vienna: Mandelbaum, 2013), 71–72; Holm, Taming of the Turk, 108–9.

(17.) Fatma Müge Göçek, East Encounters West: France and the Ottoman Empire in the Eighteenth Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), 72.

(19.) Orlin Sabev, “European Printers in Istanbul during Joseph Haydn’s Era: Ibrahim Müteferrika and Others,” in Ottoman Empire and European Theatre, vol. 2, The Time of Joseph Haydn: From Sultan Mahmud I to Mahmud II, ed. Michael Hüttler and Hans Weidinger (Vienna: Hollitzer, 2014), 197–201.

(20.) Marianne Roland Michel, “Exoticism and Genre Painting in Eighteenth-Century France,” in The Age of Watteau, Chardin, and Fragonard: Masterpieces of French Genre Painting, ed. Colin Bailey (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003), 110; Göçek, East (p.417) Encounters West, 44–46; see also Auguste Boppe, “Les ‘Peintres de Turcs’ au XVIIIe siècle,” Gazette des Beaux-Arts (Paris, 1905), 43–55 and 220–30.

(21.) Ulrich Marzolph, ed., The Arabian Nights in Transnational Perspective (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2007), 288; Laura Gonzenbach, Fiabe siciliane (Rome: Donzelli editore, 1999), xxiv.

(22.) James Anthony, “Printed Editions of André Campra’s L’Europe galante,” Musical Quarterly 56:1 (January 1970), 64–66.

(23.) Göçek, East Encounters West, 47; see also Orhan Koloğlu, Le Turc dans la presse française (Beirut: Al-Hayat, 1971), 151–52.

(25.) Nebahat Avcioğlu, Turquerie and the Politics of Representation, 1728–1876 (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2011), 45–46, 62–70.

(26.) Voltaire, Zaïre, ed. Claude Blum (Paris: Librairie Larousse, 1972), 62; see also Daniel Winkler, “Crusaders, Love, and Tolerance: Tragic and Operatic Taste in and around Voltaire’s Zaïre (1732),” in Time of Joseph Haydn, 445–61.

(27.) Robert Davis, Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters: White Slavery in the Mediterranean, the Barbary Coast, and Italy, 1500–1800 (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), 23; Linda Colley, Captives: Britain, Empire, and the World, 1600–1800 (New York: Anchor Books, 2002), 44 and 53.

(28.) Voltaire, Essai sur les Moeurs, ed. René Pomeau (Paris: Garnier Frères, 1963), vol. 2, 807–8; see also Alain Grosrichard, Structure du sérail: La fiction du despotisme asiatique dans l’Occident classique (Paris: Seuil, 1979), translated as The Sultan’s Court: European Fantasies of the East, trans. Liz Heron (London: Verso, 1998); Ruth Bernard Yeazell, Harems of the Mind: Passages of Western Art and Literature (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000); Esin Akalin, “The Ottoman Seraglio on European Stages,” in Age of Mozart and Selim III, 339–73; Koloğlu, Le Turc dans la presse française, 84–87 and 105–6.

(29.) Graham Sadler, “Les Indes galantes,” in The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, vol. 2, 795–96.

(30.) François Lesure, “Rameau et l’opéra-ballet” (CD liner notes), in Rameau, Les Indes galantes (Orchestre Jean-François Paillard) (Erato, 1974), 13–14; Dartois-Lapeyre, “Turcs et turqueries dans les représentations en musique,” 196–97.

(31.) Jean-Philippe Rameau, Les Indes galantes (CD liner notes; Orchestre JeanFrançois Paillard) (Erato, 1974), act 1, “Le Turc généreux,” libretto, scene 1, 48; Rameau, Les Indes galantes, par M. Rameau, représenté en 1735 (Paris, 1735), musical score, 74; in the original score Osman sings of Emilie’s “useless ardors” (inutiles ardeurs), presumably for the man she loves, though in other texts her ardors become “useless griefs” (inutiles douleurs).

(32.) Rameau, Les Indes galantes, act 1, “Le Turc généreux,” libretto, scene 4, 58.

(33.) Ibid., 60.

(34.) Rameau, Les Indes galantes (Paris, 1735), musical score, 113.

(p.418) (35.) Rameau, Les Indes galantes, act 1, “Le Turc généreux,” libretto, scene 4, 60.

(36.) Ibid.; Rameau, Les Indes galantes (Paris, 1735), musical score, 113.

(37.) Sadler, “Les Indes galantes,” 795–96; Bruce Brown, Gluck and the French Theatre in Vienna (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991), 186–89.

(38.) Rameau, Les Indes galantes, act 1, “Le Turc généreux,” libretto, scene 4, 62; Les Indes galantes (Paris, 1735), musical score, 113–14.

(39.) Rameau, Les Indes galantes (Paris, 1735), musical score, 125.

(40.) Ibid., 125–26.

(41.) Rameau, Les Indes galantes, act 1, “Le Turc généreux,” libretto, scene 5, 64; Les Indes galantes (Paris, 1735), musical score, 141; see also Timothy Taylor, “Peopling the Stage: Opera, Otherness, and New Musical Representations in the Eighteenth Century,” Cultural Critique 36 (Spring 1997), 61–63.

(47.) Rameau, Les Indes Galantes, act 3, “Les fleurs,” libretto, scene 3, 90.

(48.) Ibid., 92.

(49.) Antonio Salvi (libretto) and Antonio Vivaldi (music), Scanderbeg, dramma per musica, da rappresentarsi in Firenze, nel Teatro degl’Illustriss. SS. Accademici Immobili, posto in Via della Pergola, nel Estate dell’Anno MDCCXVIII (Florence: Da Anton Maria Albizzini, 1718); H.C. Robbins Landon, Vivaldi: Voice of the Baroque (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), 55.

(50.) Salvi and Vivaldi, Scanderbeg, act 3, scene 7, 56; see also Oliver Schmitt, Skanderbeg: Der neue Alexander auf dem Balkan (Regensburg: Friedrich Pustet Verlag, 2009).

(51.) Salvi and Vivaldi, Scanderbeg, act 2, scene 9, 40–41.

(52.) Ibid., act 3, scene 9, 58.

(53.) Lois Rosow, “Scanderberg,” The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, vol. 4, 199; Dartois-Lapeyre, “Turcs et turqueries dans les représentations en musique,” 207–8.

(54.) Philip Weller, “Chassé (de Chinais), Claude Louis Dominique,” The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, vol. 1, 824–25.

(55.) François Francoeur (music) and François Rebel (music), Scanderberg, tragédie représentée pour la première fois par l’Académie Royale de Musique, 27 octobre 1735 (Paris: L’Imprimerie de Jean-Baptiste-Christophe Ballard, 1735), act 1, scene 1.

(56.) Ibid., act 4, scene 6.

(57.) Betzwieser, Exotismus, 422–24; see also Margaret Griffel, “Turkish Opera from Mozart to Cornelius,” Ph.D. dissertation, Columbia University, 1975, 125–26.

(p.419) (58.) Francoeur and Rebel, Scanderberg (Paris, 1735), act 5, scene 5.

(59.) François Francoeur (music) and François Rebel (music), Scanderberg, tragédie représentée devant Leurs Majestés à Fontainebleau le 22 octobre 1763 (Paris: L’Imprimerie de Christophe Ballard, 1763), act 5, scene 6.

(60.) Francoeur and Rebel, Scanderberg (Fontainebleau, 1763), act 5, scene 6.

(61.) Ibid., act 5, scene 7.