A Peep into Mozart and Le Picq’s Serraglio (Milan, 1772): Noverre’s Tragic Reworking of a Comic Ballet

The first entr’acte ballet for Lucio Silla (K135), Mozart’s 1772 opera for the Regio Ducal Teatro, Milan, is identified in the opera’s libretto as La Gelosìa del Serraglio. This ballet has long been known to be an adaptation by the Regio Ducal Teatro choreographer Charles Le Picq of Noverre’s comic ballet, Les fêtes, ou Les jalousies du sérail. Mozart’s sketch for Le Picq’s adaptation (KV Anh 109/135a)—consisting of a sinfonia and 32 individual numbers—borrows several movements from earlier settings of Noverre’s ballet by François Granier and  Joseph Starzer, but the new movements appear to correspond to a different plot than the original Les jalousies. Commentators on this sketch have long struggled to make  sense  of  the  tangle  of source scores, the many versions of the ballet attributed to Noverre and his contemporaries, and the dearth of information on the nature of the ballet as staged by Le Picq.

A rare but extant scenario, hitherto overlooked, provides some new insights: Die fünf Sultaninnen, oder Die traurigen Wirkungen der Eifersucht (The Five Sultanas, or The Tragic Effects of Jealousy). This ballet, staged at Vienna’s Burgtheater in February 1771 under Noverre with music by Starzer, constitutes a tragic reworking of the comic Les jalousies, and it appears that it is this scenario that Le Picq adapted for the Regio Ducal Teatro, with the musical setting nearly doubling the length of Granier’s and Starzer’s scores. A comparison of the Sultaninnen scenario with Mozart’s sketch suggests numerous logical points of contact; and when triangulated with the Regio Ducal Teatro dancers identified periodically in the sketch, one can begin to understand the plot of the ballet as Mozart and Le Picq envisioned it. A further generic modification occurred in 1776 when Noverre himself revived the ballet, this time as a ballet héroï-pantomime, La nuova sposa persiana, with the original lieto fine restored. Surveying  these generic twists and turns across the ‘family’ of Jalousies ballets offers a new perspective on the historical import of Mozart’s Serraglio sketch. Whatever the nature of Mozart’s authorship of the unattributed movements, he (along with his collaborator Le Picq) may well have been a more active participant in the evolution of balletic genre than has been hitherto understood.

Adeline Mueller is the Weston Junior Research Fellow in Music at New College, Oxford, where she researches eighteenth-century opera, art song and ballet in the German-speaking lands, with an emphasis on Mozart. She is at work on a book entitled Mozart and the Marketing of Childhood, which examines the commercial mediation of the modern child as elaborated in Mozart's own early professional life, his compositions for the young, and the construction of his persona in early biographies and music prints. She has published articles in Eighteenth-Century Music and Opera Quarterly, and guest-edited a special issue of Opera Quarterly on Mozart's Die Zauberflöte.


Adeline Mueller
Symposium Title: 
The dancer in celebrity in the long 18th-century 2014
Author affiliation: 
New College, University of Oxford