Larry Wolff


On his book The Singing Turk: Ottoman Power and Operatic Emotions on the European Stage from the Siege of Vienna to the Age of Napoleon

Cover Interview of March 21, 2017


I’m eager to have readers think more deeply about the long history of how Europe has contemplated Turkey, and how the West has regarded the Islamic world. I want to encourage readers to consider how opera intersects with history and to think about musical issues as an important part of European cultural history — crossing the disciplinary lines that sometimes separate us as historians from our colleagues in the music department. I’d like to invite readers into a lost and largely forgotten world of musical and dramatic entertainments, and try to give a sense of their cultural and political meanings for people who would have been going to the opera in the eighteenth century. To give a sense of the music, I’ve also created a website that would allow readers to listen to relevant excerpts from the music of Singing Turk operas while they are reading my book. I hope that readers will find that a useful resource.

One great thing that we were able to do at NYU was to stage an academic symposium about the book, combined with the live performance of musical selections from the operas, and it’s also possible to have a look at the video and audio of that symposium.

Finally, I’m excited to see that some of these operas are being performed today. Mozart’s Abduction from the Seraglio is, of course, regularly performed, and I wrote about it in The New York Times when it was performed at the Metropolitan Opera in the spring of 2016. But I was also excited to see Il Turco in Italia (The Turk in Italy) performed in a brilliant production at the Rossini Pesaro festival in summer 2016, and Pesaro will produce two more Rossini operas from this tradition in summer 2017, La pietra del paragone and Le siège de Corinthe. I’d love it if my book contributed to a renewal of current interest in these fascinating works, which have a lot to offer for thinking about the Western relation to the Islamic world, including cultural encounters and mutual misunderstandings, back when these operas were composed and still today.