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CD: AmazonUK AmazonUS

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 -1791)
Die Entführung aus dem Serail - Singspiel in three acts (1781 - 1782)
Pasha Selim - Hilmar Thate (spoken role)
Belmonte - Kurt Streit (tenor)
Konstanze (Belmonte's sweetheart) - Aga Winska (soprano)
Blonde (Konstanze's maid) - Elzbieta Szmytka (soprano)
Pedrillo (Belmonte's manservant and the Pasha's gardener) - Wilfried Gahmlich (tenor)
Osmin (overseer of the Pasha' s palace) - Artur Korn (bass)
With Christian Metternich, Walter Bartussek, Ingrid Sieghart, Elisabeth Mach, Adolf Tomaschek and Josef Stangl.
Orchester/Chor der Wiener Staatsoper/Nikolaus Harnoncourt
rec. live, Theater an der Wien, Vienna, May 1989
Staged by: Ursel & Karl-Ernst Herrmann
Set & Costume Design: Karl-Ernst Herrmann
Picture Format: NTSC / Colour / 4:3
Region code: 0 (Worldwide)
Sound Formats: PCM Stereo / DTS 5.1
Menu language: English
Subtitles: German (Orig.Lang / sung texts only); English; French; Spanish; Chinese
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 00440 073 4540 [137.27 + 61.03]

Experience Classicsonline

It is a happy thought that we are indebted to the Emperor Joseph II for this opera. Some six years previously he wished to replace the influence of Italian opera - many European cities then had an Italian opera company. Its place was to be taken by singspiel, then, literally, a play with singing, as the original poster for this opera advertised. It is the first comic singspiel. It also has long periods of spoken dialogue, much of which is frequently omitted. It is included in this production thereby adding to the gravitas.

Written for the burgeoning Age of Enlightenment, the still absolute, but benevolent ruler is epitomised by the entirely spoken role of Pasha Selim. He is a former Spaniard crushed by Lostados, a fellow Spaniard. The Pasha emigrated, became Mohammedan, embraced Turkish culture but retained lauded Western values including noble conduct, patience and love of, inter alia, architecture and music: the Turkish Janissary band in particular.

He seeks the love of Konstanze whom he purchased together with her servants Pedrillo and Blonde, from the pirates who had captured them (plus ça change; rien ne change: pirates today off the East coast of Africa?). Class divisions abound which you can hear in the music: Belmonte, Konstanze and the Pasha distinguished from their servants Pedrillo, Blonde and Osmin. Konstanze demurs at the Pasha's advances with gentle explanation. Blonde fends off the Pasha's henchman with feisty language, threats, and comments on the social position of women.

Why a Turkish background and the Janissary band of wind and percussion? Several points are noteworthy. Originally the Janissary band played on the Turkish battlefield. It also played on state occasions, for example, to celebrate the arrival of visiting dignitaries. Joseph II had commissioned this opera originally for the arrival of the Russian Grand Duke. Further, it was only some one hundred years previously that Vienna had withstood a Turkish siege which curiously seemed to lead to a fascination with Turkish culture and music. The Janissary band sounds out clearly in the Overture with the Turkish sound always at forte contrasting with the piano of Mozart’s western music. Belmonte, later in the opera revealed as the son of Lostados, does facilitate the escape – but only because the Pasha magnanimously allows it to proceed – so in effect it is ‘the release’ from the seraglio.

There are many stimulating facets of this production, not least the way it shifts the central focus from character to character, Belmonte and Konstanze as you would expect, but here Pasha Selim also becomes central to plot and performance. This leaves the ‘lower orders’ of Pedrillo, Blonde and Osmin in conventional participation.

The Pasha is played by Hilmar Thate, a distinguished German actor, whose powerful portrayal leaves no doubt about the ruler. He remains on stage for far longer than in other productions and variously glides, prowls and stomps around it as his own. He brings raw emotion and subtlety with dramatic use of stage props: slashing the flowers off a large arrangement; refreshing his face in the garden pool and his quite brilliant half recognition of Belmonte - written on body movement and facial expression exuding 'I know you from somewhere but cannot place the face'. My only reservation relates to his apparent lack of familiarity with razor blade and comb. Would such an enlightened, almost diffident, ruler be so unkempt? But I digress ...

Kurt Streit (Belmonte) first appears outside the Pasha's palace: the picture of the weary traveller, from the knotted handkerchief on his head to the sand poured out of each shoe. His is the heroic tenor with strong dynamics. Later he throbs his way through Konstanze! Dich wiederzusehen! trembling at the prospect of seeing his beloved. Usually for his third aria, Konstanze is by his side to enjoy his protestations of love: not here. Another aria alone on stage and a third opportunity to protest his love with strong legato, ringing heartbeats, steady runs and trills. His final aria is comparatively simple but with florid patches despatched with almost casual aplomb.

Aga Winska (Konstanze), meanwhile, has her three arias reminding us of her faithfulness to Belmonte and, if she fails to accede to the Pasha, her acceptance of torture in the famous aria Martern aller Arten.. For her first act aria Winska delivers strongly controlled runs and trills but without great beauty of tone. Winska's problem in act 2, of what is effectively two 'back to back' demanding arias with a mere 60 bar interval, is resolved by Thate occupying the stage for many minutes between the arias, exhibiting his frustrations before the final threat of torture. Seriously directorially clever. In these two arias, the tonal beauty shines through. The first she invests with great emotive delivery, a squeezing then sobbing sound. Her second becomes a great ringing clarity of acceptance of torture and death. But, and it is a big but, Karl-Ernst Herrmann ought to have looked carefully at her costume for act 2. A bare midriff really does not suit the fuller figure. No need for a Deborah Voigt departure, or more recently Daniela Dessi from Rome Opera. Just a good dose of common sense in the costume department.

As with Thate, so with Streit and Winska, high seriousness is the watchword for their roles. Pleased to meet each other again but little real warmth, charisma or magnetism.

Elzbieta Szmytka is the feisty Blonde. She rasps out her lessons to Osmin with an almost brittle tone, reducing him to simpering during her aria. Highs hold no concerns for Szmytka who had a very relaxed delivery for her climactic displays. In her duet with Osmin she is so relaxed as to be the carefree captive while he tries to impress with his deep bass notes.

Artur Korn is a quite splendid Osmin, a role demanding a broad vocal range with frequent descents to the lowest notes. Add to that Korn's gift for strong facial expressions and, with effective camera close-ups, you could be forgiven for moving Osmin to a more central role. Korn has a superbly mellow tone. His aria of triumph at capturing the escaping infidels, powers out the then conventional view of Turkish cruelty with little runs of joy at the pain to be inflicted.

Wilfried Gahmlich, as Pedrillo, is Blondes's partner, Belmonte's manservant, the Pasha's gardener and the thorn in Osmin's side. Gahmlich has a distinctive tenor timbre with a great open throat sound. He so amusingly and effectively winds himself up in his aria to overcome his fears of effecting the escape. However, the real joy is his delivery of the gently engaging serenade to summon the ladies for the escape, an excellently delivered warm sound with pizzicato accompaniment.

Gahmlich and Korn are well matched adversaries, later united in the Vivat Bacchus! duet. Their voices balance well and their acting skills together are second to none. With Gahmlich inciting him on, Korn is convincingly overcome by the effects of the wine without descending to the ridiculous. Normally walked off stage by Pedrillo, his stage departure here is dramatic - tipped over the wall that you can see on the cover picture above. That wall forms part of the garden for the second act and to which the third act is transferred from the Pasha's apartments. Thate powers round it, Szmytka squats on top of it and from there is carried in squat position across stage by Gahmich. In his turn he 'standing jumps' over it. The only downside is the occasional lack of space front of stage, for example for the quartet.

This is a 'straight' production with Winska portraying a rock solid love for Belmonte unassailed by other feelings. Only when finally 'escaping' is there a slight movement towards the Pasha. This is much as Gruberova portrays on the highly stylised and beautifully sung August Everding staging of 1980 (Deutsche Grammophon 00440 073 4075) conducted by Karl Böhm. Böhm has a more measured approach to the music than Harnoncourt who positively races into the orchestral sections but slows for the soloists to provide them with even paced support.

For a different slant on the role of Konstanze, try Malin Hartelius in first, the Deschamp/ Makeïeff 2004 production for the Aix festival (on Bel Air 028). Intercessions of 'pantomime' and the amazing Iranian modern dancer Shahroka Moshkin-Ghalam as the Pasha, feature prominently. This Konstanze is evidently very much attracted to the Pasha but does not fall so far as to threaten her love for Belmonte. The second is the Jonathan Miller 2003 production for Zurich (also Bel Air 007) which goes much further. Klaus Maria Brandauer is the extremely smooth and polished Pasha. Here is very convincing acting by Hartelius. She makes plain Konstanze's strong attraction to, and growing feelings for, the Pasha. When Belmonte appears she has very real doubts as to her love for him. Yes, she is indeed rescued but one is left wondering if this Konstanze would have chosen that outcome.

Robert McKechnie


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