The Abduction from the Seraglio is Mozart’s message to America in the person of Constanze.
I know nothing of this opera save that Constanze, a powerful woman, stands in the middle of it. Abducted by Turks of the sort that only exist in the Viennese opera, she stays true to her beloved, a man she cannot be sure is alive. It spoils nothing to say he rescues her from slavery in the harem, because she is free from the first glorious note she sings.
You cannot command love. The Pasha wants her, but he cannot have her. He is, of course, capable of taking her, but her soul would remain inviolate. He is (in the offensive terms of the day) a noble savage who is man enough to realize that love cannot be taken only given.
In a parallel plot, when a brute tries to seduce Constaze’s servant, this Englishwoman proclaims her freedom. In English during this German opera, she rebukes the lout for wanting to make her a puppet.
Puppetry is many things, but it is not a means of romance and a puppet-master cannot be a husband.
The puppet must do as she is told, but the love of a free woman is a gift.
Mozart reminds Americans that we can bid obedience, but not love. I have seen weird schools where outer conformity is not enough; one must have a “good attitude.” This is too much as it tries to judge and control the heart, the job of God and not men. A man can pay me for a job, but he cannot force me to like it. My soul remains free.
And yet a man or woman might be external free while internally in bondage. What would it profit Constanze to escape the harem, if she has picked up the values. A man or woman cannot be free if tyrant passions govern his or her life.
Constanze is not prey to the Pasha and she is also free of her own desires. In the version I saw, the Pasha was attractive and she was tempted to succumb, but she bid her passion follow her soul in constancy. She was a free woman, because she was free to choose how she responded to her own emotions.
Against her stood the “natural man” the ignoble savage Osmen. He is unable to master his desires and so is miserable. He is no gentleman and worse than an animal. An animal cannot choose, but Osmen has lost the power of free will because he has ba habits.
We need to become Constanze by using pain to master desire. Love must be constant, but also the servant of reason and the whole soul. She is constant and we need constancy. Her real beauty, the power of her music, comes from passion harnessed: the very definition of a lady or gentleman. Is it any wonder that the Pasha loves her?
She is what he needs, but he is unfit for her, because he lacks her control. He faces the horror many of us find when we finally see what we need, but are unworthy for it. A great reason to live a moderate life is to become the kind of person fit for the love of a Constanze.
To be the Pasha is to know despair. America is in danger of regressing to savages: noble and ignoble, because we ignore the virtues of constancy and prudence.