What a magnificent opera - Singspiel,
to be absolutely correct - Die Entführung
is! And to have it in this superbly
sung and well-conducted version is a
real delight. Gustav Kuhn presides,
a conductor whose career seemed to start
off with the highest of praise and promise
and who subsequently became rather quiet.
His direction here is of the surest,
with a keen flair for comic timing coupled
with a real understanding of the singers
and the difficulties Mozart gives them
- and there are many in this work!
Peter Wood's traditional
staging – trees and leaves for the Palace
forecourt, convincing sets to take us
to the right period – means we can sit
back and enjoy.
The star, surely, is
Willard White. His Osmin is everything
this character should be – self-assured,
rather repellent and above all, superbly
sung. White at the height of his powers
was near unbeatable and it is possibly
this DVD's greatest plus-point that
we can enjoy White enjoying himself.
Ryland Davies is a
strong tenor as Belmonte – reassuringly
non-bleaty. His initial 'Hier soll ich
dich den sehen' flows well, but it has
to be admitted he is put completely
in the shade when Osmin takes the stage.
White's comedic timing is as much a
joy to behold as his vocal technique
is to hear. His staccato (so vital in
this role) is of perfect attack, his
laugh exactly in character. When he
steals Pedrillo's spectacles and tells
him what he intends to do to him, he
steals not only the glasses but the
aria 'Konstanze ... O wie ängstlich'
shows some weaknesses, mainly in a slight
awkwardness in handling melismatic writing.
Kuhn's handling of the orchestra, though,
is exemplary, the accents stabbing just
the right amount.
Valerie Masterson gets
off to a rather sour start with the
first note of her long aria, 'Ach ich
liebte'. Once settled in, though, almost
all is loveliness - just a suspicion
of sliding around in the melismas. But
her stage presence is undeniable. It
is in Act 2, though, that she hits form.
Her two big numbers, 'Welcher Kummer'
and the infamously difficult 'Martern
aller Arten' show her at her best. There
are very few aspirates in the latter,
and her tone is pure and sad for the
former. The concertino group from the
orchestra (flute, oboe, violin and cello)
excel in their contributions here, too.
It may come as a surprise that this
ends Act 1 on the screen, when in the
listing in the booklet (and elsewhere)
it comes during Act 2. Order in this
opera is not completely fixed - Beecham
famously played around, to memorable
Lilian Watson's Blonde
complements Masterson's Constanze perfectly.
Light but not too bleaty, her 'Durch
Zärtlichkeit' has a most appealing
lyricism, and the ensuing duet with
Osmin shows two top artists on top form
making stage magic; listen out for Osmin's
superb low E flat! The machinations
that end the second act - beginning
with a memorable, and fun, 'Vivat Bacchus!'
from Pedrillo and Osmin - are dramatic
excellence, with the final scene of
nocturnal joy (evocatively lit) superbly
paced by Kuhn and magnificently sustained
by all concerned. One realises here
the care that went into the choice of
voices, as the tenors are readily distinguishable.
The final act shows
Pedrillo (Hobeck) at his most ardent
as he does his proto-Don Giovanni Serenade
('In Mohrenland gefangen war'). After
singing so well, along comes White to
remind us of his stature with
a superb 'Ha, wie will ich triumphieren'.
The Finale, which centres on the Pasha's
clemency, is marked by Bissmeier's convincing
gravity. I like the way that in the
on-stage placing of singers it is Osmin
that ruins the symmetry, and when he
leaves, spatial harmony is restored
so the opera can end happily.