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Aspen Music Festival (IV) Mozart: The Abduction from the Seraglio, Arnold Östman, conductor; Aspen Opera Theatre, Wheeler Opera House, July 21, 2004 (HS)


No one expects the voices to be world class at the Aspen Music Festival's student opera performances. The singers are usually plucked from the voice students in the associated music school or they are young professionals just getting their early breaks. But they usually have something special to offer, if not in sheer vocal glory then with acting and youthful passion. Edward Berkeley, who heads up the Aspen Opera Theatre Center, usually shepherds the proceedings into compelling drama or wit, as needed. This time the results were mixed.


In one of the few nice directorial touches, Belmonte was decked out like Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones. That makes sense, as Belmonte is the outsider come to rescue his friends held prisoner by a Turkish Pasha. It was a relief that nothing in the staging alluded directly or indirectly to current world events, with western civilians being held prisoner in Muslim countries. They played it straight.


But time after time, the cast missed chances to make something of the many comic or humanly dramatic situations. It didn't help that Craig Verro, in the speaking role of Pasha Selim, looked too young for the part and lacked the gravitas for his ultimate gesture of nobility. And why was a modern stepladder present in every scene but never actually led to anything? Even in the actual rescue in Act III, Konstanze and Blonde just walked out from behind a curtain instead of climbing down the ladder provided. The music was sung in German but the dialogue was done in English, which should have helped.


Norman Reinhardt was the lone unalloyed bright spot in the cast, singing Belmonte's arias with elegance, style and a welcome ping to his lyric tenor. "Konstanze, Konstanze" spun out with appealing purity, and the lovely Act III aria, "Ich baue ganz auf deine Stärke," showed him in a more agitated mood, without losing any vocal grace. Currently in the Houston Grand Opera's development program, Reinhardt is a Mozartean tenor of distinction.


Alison Trainer did almost as well as Blonde, using her considerable energy and plunging cleavage to great effect. She was a bundle of fun, and she sang all the music with accuracy. But most of the rest of the singers seemed miscast. Holly Boaz wielded too wide a vibrato and not quite enough ability to change vocal color for Konstanze. David Fry seemed more like a lyric bass baritone than a true bass with the requisite low notes and stage presence to seem enough of a bully for Osmin. Pascal Charbonneau offered little to distinguish Pedrillo's usually cut Act III aria.


Fortunately, conductor Arnold Östman, who was artistic director of the Drottningholm Court Theatre from 1979 to 1992, brought musical clarity to the proceedings. The student orchestra responded with sprightly, well-sprung playing, and Östman kept things moving briskly but without undue haste. He knows Mozart, and the results showed it. If only the singers had been up to the task. Aspen Music Festival's voice and opera department usually does better than this.


Harvey Steiman

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