The Representation of Oriental Others in Haydn’s L’incontro Improvviso

  • Oak Joo Yap Mahidol University, Thailand


This paper examines the musical Orientalism and representation of Oriental Others in Haydn’s seraglio opera, L'incontro improvviso. In seraglio opera, one of the Turkish-themed musical genres of “Turcomania” that swept Europe in the eighteenth century, Oriental Others were defined by their supposed negative human traits such as slyness, crudeness or irrationality. Alla turca topos in Lincontro, as in other seraglio operas, are extensively used to accentuate the inferiority of Others, their customs or religions. The representation of Others demonstrates little ethical complexity, exhibiting a stark dichotomy between morally upright Westerners and unsophisticated Others with dubious morals. I argue that despite presenting no European characters dueling with Others and thus foregoing such a narrative format as “East meets West on stage,” Haydn’s Lincontro is, nonetheless, more diminishing in its portrayal of Others than in most seraglio operas: even the male protagonist is among the degraded Others who are usually subplot characters from a low social echelon. No “rescuer,” the protagonist in Lincontro is rendered as an incompetent figure. Ali’s unmanly stature is further highlighted by the active, counter-stereotypical Oriental heroine, Rezia, who is presented as a foil to emphasize the inadequacy of Ali. The ultimate male Other, the Sultan, suffers equally from a weak stage presence despite fulfilling his role as a conveyer of Enlightenment ideals in a typical lieto fine of Turkish opera.