century theatre at Drottningholm, just
outside Stockholm, with the Royal family
living in the Versailles inspired castle
just across the yard, is ideal for Mozart.
The stage is narrow but very deep and
the original sets and stage machinery
are still used. From the mid-1980s until
the early 1990s Swedish Television produced
a series of Mozart operas, conducted
by Arnold Östman and directed for
TV by Thomas Olofsson. They are now
being issued on DVD by Arthaus; I reviewed
La clemenza di Tito in June 2006
and some others have been reviewed by
colleagues at MusicWeb.
to Mozart, and indeed to other 18th
century composers as well, is by now
well known: crisp playing on period
instruments, swift speeds, sharp contrasts
and accentuated rhythms. All this is
in full evidence here, too, and contributes
to the overall impression of life and
forward movement. With Östman in
charge there is never any risk that
the listener drops off. Not that Mozart
is long-winded, especially not in Die
Entführung aus dem Serail which
radiates life and action; here the temperature
is constantly high. Another reason contributing
to the success is the choice of singers/actors.
Every one of them is just cut out for
his/her role and all of them are outstanding
actors. In addition they have obviously
been picked to look their roles
as well: Blonde with lively action and
glittering eyes, Pedrillo with a plethora
of facial expressions and gymnastic
body control, Constanze sweet and innocent
looking and her fiancé Belmonte
the good-looking nobleman, while both
Osmin and Bassa Selim are demonic characters,
albeit in different ways.
At Drottningholm there
is no need to tamper with the story,
move it to present times or other gimmicky
‘solutions’ beloved of far too many
directors. What we get is a production
that is traditional in the best sense
of the word. As a viewer one can just
lean back and follow the action without
having to be irritated by this and wondering
what hidden symbolism there is in that.
Thomas Olofsson’s experienced direction
for TV is also unfussy and immediate,
showing the pictures that feel natural
for the viewer. With good-looking and
excellent singing-actors at his disposal
he is wise to choose close-ups every
so often, making the viewer closely
involved in the proceedings.
Playing good, acting
good, direction good – what about the
singing? Reading through the cast list
I suspect most potential buyers will
say: who are these people? I don’t know
a single name. Let me just answer: It
doesn’t matter an iota! They actually
sing just as well as they act. Richard
Croft as Belmonte looks youthful and
has a youthful voice too, ardent, beautiful
and expressive. He sings a ravishing
pianissimo in the Constanze-Belmonte
duet near the end. Polish-born Aga Winska
also has a voice to match her physical
beauty, secure, sensitive and with perfect
coloratura, making the notoriously difficult
Martern aller Arten one of the
real highlights of the performance.
Elisabeth Hellström’s light soprano
glitters just as nicely as her eyes.
"Fresh as dew" is a worn metaphor
but here it is very appropriate. Bengt-Ola
Morgny’s light character tenor has enough
heft to allow him to sing a dramatic
Frisch zum Kampfe while Im
Mohrenland is light and airy and
unusually swift. The demonic Tamás
Szüle is, although fairly small
of stature, an Osmin who dominates every
scene through his enormous stage presence.
He possesses a powerful, well-focused
bass voice where even the deepest notes
sit comfortably. Emmerich Schäffer,
barefooted, makes an expressive Bassa
Selim, alternating between a maliciously
satanic smile and tremendous rage.
Recorded at a live
performance there is applause after
some arias but otherwise this is a well-behaved
audience and the recorded sound is excellent.
Stage noises are easy to disregard when
one sees what causes them and actually
heightens the feeling of being there.
I reviewed Solti’s
colourful Covent Garden Entführung
about a year ago. That is a production
to return to, but this more small scale
version has a much greater feeling of
authenticity. Only readers who are allergic
to period instruments should avoid it.
at Drottingholm Limited Edition:
Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail, Die Zauberflote,
Idomeneo, La Clemenza di Tito, La Finta
Giardiniera, Cosi Fan Tutte.