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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 – 1791)
Die Entführung aus dem Serail (1782)
Emmerich Schäffer (speaking part) – Bassa Selim; Aga Winska (soprano) – Constanze; Elisabeth Hellström (soprano) – Blonde; Richard Croft (tenor) – Belmonte; Bengt-Ola Morgny (tenor) – Pedrillo; Tamás Szüle (bass) – Osmin
Chorus and Orchestra of the Drottningholm Court Theatre/Arnold Östman
Stage Direction by Harald Clemen; Designer: Carl-Friedrich Oberle, Costume Production: Börje Edh; Directed for TV and Video by Thomas Olofsson
rec. at the Drottningholm Court Theatre, Sweden, in 1990.
Sound Format: PCM STEREO; Picture Format 4:3
ARTHAUS 102 015 [133:00]

The 18th 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.

Östman’s approach 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.

Göran Forsling


Mozart at Drottingholm Limited Edition: Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail, Die Zauberflote, Idomeneo, La Clemenza di Tito, La Finta Giardiniera, Cosi Fan Tutte. £95/£101.50


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