Don Juan Archiv - Wien, Forschungsverlag
Das Serail
Johann Joseph Friebert (1724-1799): Das Serail. Teutsche Operette. Passiva 1779. Titelblatt. Manuskript, Don Juan Archiv Wien.


Don Juan Archiv Wien International Symposia
Vienna and Istanbul 2010

The historical importance of the Ottoman Empire’s presence in Europe is highlighted by its frequent appearance in theatre. The aim of the annual series of symposia, alternately hosted in Vienna and Istanbul, is to explore, on the one hand, the various performative expressions of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Turkish/Ottoman culture and diplomacy on European theatre stages, and on the other hand, the appearance of European theatre and opera in the Ottoman Empire, and the Ottoman attitude towards Europe.

Don Juan Archiv Wien invites you to submit abstracts and participate in a series of symposia entitled “Ottoman Empire and European Theatre” by sharing your achievements in the fields of theatre, cultural, and performance studies. Following in the footsteps of conferences in 2008 entitled “The Age of Sultan Selim III and Mozart (1756-1808)”, and in 2009, “The Time of Joseph Haydn – From Sultan Mahmud I to Mahmud II (r.1730-1839)”, the topic for 2010 is

in Theatre, Opera, and Poetry from the Earliest Theatrical Sources to
Lord Byron’s Don Juan (1819-1824)

On May 3, 1810, George Gordon Lord Byron swam like the mythic Leander from Sestos on the European side of the Hellespont to Abydos on the Asian shore. The year 2010 marks the 200th anniversary of Byron’s crossing and his subsequent visit to Constantinople from May 13, 1810, to July 14, 1810. The hero of his poem Don Juan lives in “feminine disguise” in the sultan’s harem for more than a century, from the regency of Soliman II (or of Soliman I, according to some experts) to the siege of the fortress of Ismailia by Alexander V. Suvorov in 1790. Cantos V and VI of the poem include various descriptions of the palace, the harem and its inhabitants. To commemorate Byron’s Don Juan, the pair of symposia in 2010 will focus on the representations of seraglios and harems in theatre, opera and poetry.

The imaginative world of the Ottoman seraglio was widely represented on European stages from the sixteenth century onwards. Audiences were fascinated by depictions of an unknown world, closed for outsiders and therefore open to imagination. The stories circle from the kidnapping of European men and women, and the women’s lives in the harem, to unexpected encounters with the captured and their later abductions from the seraglio.

Which are the earliest theatrical sources of these stories is still being debated by scholars. Some suggest that Gabriel Bounin’s La Soltane (1561) about the life of Roxelana might be the earliest drama and La schiava fortunata o vero La Dori (“Favola drammatica musicale rappresentata in Insprugg l'anno 1657 nel Teatro di Sala”), with libretto by Giovanni Filippo Apolloni and music by Marc’ Antonio Cesti, might be the earliest “opera” that include scenes from the seraglio (although this last work depicts a Persian seraglio, not an Ottoman one). However, this issue remains open for further investigation, and we welcome papers concerning this subject.

Representations of the seraglio reached a climax in Lord Byron’s poem Don Juan (1819-1824); the text is not a stage play but it features an extensive adventure of the hero, disguised as a lady, in the Ottoman sultan’s seraglio and harem.

In European literature of the eighteenth century the term “seraglio” was usually treated as synonymous with the term “harem”. The Italian word “serraglio”, often spelled in libretti with two r’s, means a “cage” (as used for wild animals), while the Turkish word “saray”, derived from the Persian “sara’i” (a “palace, inn”), means “palace, court”. The harem, the women’s quarters, is part of the seraglio, and the word “harem” derives from the Arabian “haram”, which means “unlawful, forbidden, sacred”.
While Ottaviano Bon’s book Descrizione del Serraglio del Gransignore (1608; in English, The Sultan’s Seraglio, 1650) had already provided at the beginning of the seventeenth century a general description of the palace and its architecture, true to the meaning of the word “harem,” the women’s quarters remained inaccessible.
Lady Mary Wortley Montague (1689-1762), during her stay in Istanbul and Adrianople from 1716-1718, was the first and only foreigner permitted to visit those private apartments of the Ottoman court ladies. Her Letters… which contain, Among other curious Relations, Accounts of the Policy and Manners of the Turks; Drawn from Sources that have been inaccessible to other Travellers, published in 1763, provide us with the first eyewitness account of the inside of the seraglio.


Joseph Friebert – Das Serail
Relevant to the subject of the seraglio, Don Juan Archiv Wien holds the only known copy of Joseph Friebert’s Das Serail (‘The Seraglio’, Passavia, 1779). This manuscript material, stemming from eighteenth-century Passavia – and including the vocal (Zaide, Gomaz and Renegat) and instrumental parts respectively – only came to light in 2005 and is therefore mostly uninvestigated.
Friebert set to music Franz Joseph Sebastiani’s libretto Das Serail oder Die unvermuthete Zusammenkunft in der Sclaverey zwischen Vater, Tochter und Sohn (‘The Seraglio or The unexpected encounter of father, daughter and son in slavery’, Bozen, 1779), which in turn served as model for Johann Andreas Schachtner and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s unfinished Singspiel Zaide (Das Serail) KV 344.

Friebert’s choral adaptation of Joseph Haydn’s orchestral composition Die sieben letzten Worte unseres Erlösers am Kreuze (‘The Seven Last Words of Christ’, 1787), performed in 1795 in Passau where Friebert was Kapellmeister, was heard there by Haydn on his way to London; Haydn was inspired to create his own choral version, which premiered with revised lyrics by Baron Gottfried van Swieten in Vienna in 1796.

Joseph Friebert’s brother Karl was working at the Esterhazy court in Eisenstadt where he wrote the libretto for another “seraglio” opera: L’incontro improvviso (‘The unexpected encounter’, 1775), set to music by Joseph Haydn in 1775. Karl translated and adapted the text from the French version by Louis Hurtaut Dancourt (based on the play Les pelérins de la Mecque by Alain René Lesage and Jacques-Philippe d’Orneval; Paris, Théâtre de la Foire St. Laurent, 1726), which had been previously set to music by Christoph Willibald Gluck in La rencontre imprévue (‘The unexpected encounter’, Vienna, Burgtheater, 1764).
Exclusive research possibility
Don Juan Archiv Wien grants interested researchers the exclusive opportunity to research the original Das Serail material for in-depth-analysis. One panel of the symposia will be dedicated to discussion of this research, and we encourage scholars and students to focus especially on the study of this material.

Note: Investigations about the seraglio should avoid discussion of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail (‘Abduction from the Seraglio’), as the content of this opera has been the subject of a variety of publications and was extensively discussed at our symposia in 2008 and 2009. We prefer to concentrate on material and topics that have been less thoroughly researched, and particularly welcome new findings.

Don Juan Archiv Wien, in cooperation with the UNESCO International Theatre Institute in Vienna, and the Austrian Cultural Forum in Istanbul.

Conference Convener: Michael Hüttler

Dates and Venues
•    Vienna, Austria: 23–24 April 2010 at the UNESCO ITI, Türkenstraße 19, A-1090 Vienna
•    Istanbul, Turkey: 27–28 May 2010 at the Austrian Cultural Forum, Yeniköy, TR-34464 Istanbul (attention: new date!)

Sessions on Friebert will be held in Vienna, sessions on Byron in Istanbul. The location of all other sessions will be announced in due course.

Topics for papers
We invite papers on the Ottoman Empire and European Theatre, with especial focus on seraglios and harems. Possible topics include the following:

•    Lord Byron’s Don Juan and the portrayal of the seraglio and harem
•    Travelogues from the Ottoman Empire and the description of the Seraglio by Lady Mary Montague or others
•    The earliest “seraglio” interpretations in theatre, ballet, or opera
•    Descriptions of the seraglio on stage, including costumes, stage designs, etc.
•     “The capture” on stage in theatre, ballet, or opera
•    Everyday life in the harem as represented in theatre, ballet, or opera
•    Abduction from the seraglio depicted in theatre, ballet, or opera (excluding Mozart’s Entführung aus dem Serail)
•    Palace vs. harem: facts and illusions in architecture, garden, entertainment, clothes
•    Joseph Friebert’s Das Serail

For examples of topics addressed at the 2008 and 2009 symposia, see


Paper Proposals

Scholars and artists who wish to present papers are invited to submit proposals containing the following:

  • A one-page abstract (250-300 words) of the proposed paper naming the presenter(s);
  • Contact information, including name, title, position, university or institutional affiliation, postal address, telephone, fax, and email; and
  • A 75-100 word bio of the presenter(s), including recent publications.


Please submit proposals to :



The official language of the symposia is English. Each presentation should last thirty minutes (plus fifteen minutes for discussion). Papers presented will be published in a subsequent publication.

Deadline for submission of proposals: November 30, 2009






Letztes Update: 02.10.2018