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Mozart, Die Entführung aus dem Serail at the Finnish National Opera, Helsinki, 21.4.2006 (GF)


Conductor: Ralf Weikert
Director: Dieter Kaegi
Set and costume designer: William Orlandi
Lighting designer: Roberto Venturi


Cast:
Konstanze: Anna-Kristiina Kaappola (soprano)
Belmonte : Juan José Lopera (tenor)
Blonde: Dilbèr (soprano)
Pedrillo: Dan Karlström (tenor)
Osmin :Jyrki Korhonen (bass)
Selim : Pekka Salomaa (speaking part)


Finnish National Opera Chorus and Orchestra

 

 

 


This Entführung aus dem Serail was premiered in February 2003 and now returns for another round as part of the Mozart celebrations with the same conductor and most of the soloists brought over from the original cast. The only new names are Juan José Lopera as Belmonte (replacing Topi Lehtipuu) and Pekka Salomaa as Selim (Tom Krause, no less, took this speaking part in 2003).


As is so often the case nowadays the story has been transferred, from the castle of Selim Pasha in the 16th century to the 1920s and is set on board a cruise ship captained by Selim. The idea is original and funny and it works surprisingly well, at least if one knows the original story – then this becomes a surprising and entertaining excursion from the mainstream. Probably it works similarly well with newcomers to the work, who are informed in the programme book about the changes. It also has its drawbacks, which I will try to sort out in due time.

 


The sets are the side of the ship, which can be raised and lowered and also moved sideways to provide a variety of different milieus. During the overture the passengers enter the ship, where Osmin checks passports and tickets and two members of the crew are busy replacing the old name of the ship with letters constituting the name KONSTANZE. There is a lot of business going on during this embarkation, so much so that they sometimes threaten to drown the softer parts of the overture. Generally there are a lot of gags all through the performance, much of it witty and stylish, some of it too much of the slapstick kind. Since this is a cruise ship both the chorus, who have little to sing in this opera, and a large number of extras are employed in a variety of roles: partying, sunbathing, playing and just mingling in the background, and of course when the action is set in modern times there are people taking photos (but why equipped with mini-cameras and electronic flashlights? OK, Leica mini-cams were introduced in 1925 but the flashlights?) The captain, Selim, is greeted by an ad hoc choir, sheet music in hand; Konstanze sings her Martern aller Arten against a dark background with an enormous ship propeller looming threatening above her – what kind of torture does this allude to? The scene where Pedrillo makes Osmin drunk takes place in the bar of the ship and poor Osmin, after saying a prayer that Allah won’t see him, gets stoned after one Dry Martini. The attempted escape is carried through using a lifeboat and here logic falters, since when reconciliation is reached and Belmonte and his friends are free to leave Selim’s castle (in the original version) they do so here too, in spite of being in the middle of the ocean. Logic of course isn’t always opera’s strongest suit and this production provides 2½ hours of excellent entertainment.

 

 


Musically it is also well up to the requirements. Conductor Ralf Weikert has an impressive list of merits, not least in the Mozart field: he received the Mozart Prize in 1966, the Karl Böhm Prize in 1975, in 1981 he was appointed chief conductor of the Mozarteum orchestra in Salzburg and he has conducted in most of the great opera houses. He knows his Mozart and has a firm grip of the proceedings with sensible tempos and good precision, a minor slip in one of Osmin’s arias apart, caused by an early entry from the singer. In the rousing overture he at once set his mark on the performance and the comic elements were well taken care of through the opera. But of course Die Entführung is not only comedy, far from it; Konstanze is constantly depressed up to the final ensemble and her three arias were given fine lyric-tragic readings.


The three-act opera is performed with only one interval and the break comes after Konstanze’s Martern aller Arten. Instead of beginning the second part with Blonde’s and Pedrillo’s spoken dialogue, some orchestral music is inserted, accompanying the passengers in sundry sports activities. The dialogue is generally well executed, but since Konstanze is so depressed and Selim’s part is performed in a low-key manner, there is some loss of momentum in their scenes. Selim is a notoriously difficult part to put life into and the only wholly successful assumption of it I can remember is Oliver Tobias’ in Solti’s Covent Garden production from 1988. He is young and frightening and the production is on DVD. I suspect that the dramatic Tom Krause in the original cast might have been able to inject more life in the part.


The singing is first-class, with Anna-Kristiina Kaappola executing her difficult arias with aplomb, missing only the last ounce of warmth. It is a tough part to sing with two long arias one after the other separated only by some spoken dialogue. As Blonde, Dilbér is in her element. She keeps her vibrato, which sometimes during later years has tended to widen, well in check and she rips off a couple of brilliant top notes. Besides that she is a wonderful actor, something that also goes for Dan Karlström and his somewhat piercing voice is used to good effect, but he can also deliver a lyrical serenade, Im Mohrenland gefangen war.


Some hardness is also detectable in Juan José Lopera’s voice when under pressure but in general he is a near perfect Belmonte. He is no newcomer to the National Opera – almost a year and a half ago he was an excellent Ramiro in Rossini’s La Cenerentola, a performance Bill Kenny also saw and reviewed enthusiastically on this site (see review). He negotiates the runs and leaps of Ich baue ganz with ease – a real challenge to any lyric tenor.


From earlier acquaintances with Jyrki Korhonen I expected him to be an ideal Osmin. His is a captivating stage presence and he has one of the finest bass voices now before the public. His basically warm and round tone reminds a great deal of Kurt Moll’s. Few bass roles are so grateful for a bass with acting abilities but surprisingly enough his lowest notes seemed to lack the last degree of power, but otherwise it was a formidable performance.


In spite of some objections – or call it carping – this production of Die Entführung aus dem Serail is well worth a trip to Helsinki to see. It will run until May 9th and Mozart lovers willing to stay a couple of days will be able to see both Die Zauberflöte and Le nozze di Figaro.




Göran Forsling




Photographs © Finnish National Opera/Finnish National Ballet, photographers Heikki Tuuli and Sakari Viika
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