Larry Wolff

The Singing Turk

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

Stanford University Press 2016

New Books in Arts & LettersNew Books in Eastern European StudiesNew Books in European StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Intellectual HistoryNew Books in MusicNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books Network February 19, 2018 Krzysztof Odyniec

In The Singing Turk: Ottoman Power and Operatic Emotions on the European Stage from the Siege of Vienna to the Age of Napoleon (Stanford...

In The Singing Turk: Ottoman Power and Operatic Emotions on the European Stage from the Siege of Vienna to the Age of Napoleon (Stanford University Press, 2016), Larry Wolff takes us into that distinctly European art form, the opera, to show us the reflection of European ideas of Ottoman Turkey in the modern period. Beginning in 1683 when Ottoman guns shook the walls of Vienna, through a long eighteenth century, and up to Napoleon’s military supremacy in the nineteenth, when Turkish conquest of Europe was “no longer really imaginable” (402), the singing Turk in one form or another, dazzled, terrified, and enchanted European audiences from Vienna, to Venice, to Paris. Professor Wolff’s discussion of the music—its creation, its reception, and its context—is richly entertaining and accessible to the layman. It also reveals important currents in political and cultural thought during the Enlightenment in a Europe with ever-broader horizons. Professor Wolff moves between decades and opera houses, to argue that, rather than being some simplistic oriental foil, the operatic Turk ultimately allows the European audience to see its own humanity in a trans-Mediterranean alter ego, and composers and librettists to resolve the two in harmony with plenty of drama and humor along the way.

The reader of the Singing Turk is advised to listen along on YouTube to the operas, other compositions, and Turkish military orchestra that appear in The Singing Turk. Professor Wolff has also collected quite a few of these on a website, http://www.singingturk.com/. In our podcast, Professor Wolff also discusses twenty-first century implications of this long cultural, political, and diplomatic relationship. Furthermore, he explains one of the opera’s more peculiar romantic roles of (now mercifully defunct), that of the castrato (adult performer castrated in boyhood) and why such an actor never played the Turkish eunuch.

Professor Wolff is Silver Professor, Professor of History, and Director of Mediterranean Studies at New York University. He specializes in the history of Eastern Europe, the Habsburg Monarchy, the Enlightenment, and the history of childhood, writing from an intellectual, cultural, literary—and now musical—perspective. His work considers East and West and the dialectic relationship between the two, as he did with his Inventing Eastern Europe: The Map of Civilization in the Mind of the Enlightenment (1994). The Singing Turk is his seventh book.


Krzysztof Odyniec is a historian of the Early Modern Spanish Empire specializing on culture, diplomacy, and travel. He completed his PhD in 2017 at UC Berkeley where he is now a Visiting Scholar; he also teaches at Los Medanos College and Berkeley City College.

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