Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Die Entführung aus dem Serail K.384 - Singspiel in three acts (1782)
Bassa Selim (Pasha) - Christoph Quest (spoken role by an actor); Konstanze, Spanish lady, beloved of Belmonte – Diana Damrau (soprano); Belmonte, Spanish nobleman, beloved of Konstanze – Christoph Strehl (tenor); Blonde, maid to Konstanze – Olga Peretyatko (soprano); Pedrillo, Belmonte’s servant and overseer of Bassa's garden – Norbert Ernst (tenor); Osmin, overseer of Bassa's villa – Franz-Josef Selig (bass)
Orquesta Simfònica del Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona/Ivor Bolton
Staged by Christof Loy
rec. Gran Teatre de Liceu, July 2011
Video Director: Pietro d’Agostino
BD: DTS-HD MA 5.1, PCM 2.0
Filmed in HD 1089i. 16:9.
Sound formats: PCM Stereo. DTS-HD. MA 5.1
Subtitles: English, German, French, Spanish, Catalan, Chinese, Korean
C MAJOR 709204
After some years of relative neglect, perhaps out of mistaken
political correctness and the impact of Muslim fundamentalism,
this work has returned to favour. It is defined as a singspiel,
a work of musical numbers interspersed with spoken dialogue.
Perhaps to get away from the traditional and any sensitivities,
this renaissance has led to some rather quirky productions.
One was set on The Orient Express; yes, a train for
a harem: any gimmick is possible for some directors and designers.
I could not imagine how it could work and it didn’t (review).
Similarly, Opera North treated the work as slapstick (review).
I have to go back to the early 1980s when Glyndebourne produced
elegant sets by William Dudley alongside a touring cast that
brought the best out of Mozart’s creation whilst not shirking
the coloured harem guard, Osmin, complete with curled toe shoes
and fez. That production and elegant sets were caught on film
at the main Glyndebourne Festival and is available on DVD (Arthaus
101 091). More recently I found much to commend in a production
from Florence in 2002 by Eike Gramss with sets by Christoph
Wagenknech and costumes by Catherine Voeffray. Christof Loy,
the producer here, is renowned for his off-eat takes on opera,
often with minimal sets and updated costumes. Examples are seen
in his staging of Handel’s oratorio Theodora (review)
and Verdi’s Les Vêpres Siciliennes,
the latter, with much gratuitous violence and incidents that
the composer would not recognize (review).
Minimal sets and updating to modern dress are to be found here
as in those productions. In this production the set in act one
is simply a chair and table on which the Harem guard, Osmin,
stretches his legs. Complete with braces and tattooed arm he
looks and behaves like a thug. The later acts are equally bereft
of much in the way of stage sets although in act two there is
a latticed backdrop to represent the entrance to the harem.
Despite the lack of much in the way of sets and effects, a production
can work if the participants have the stage persona and acting
ability to bring it off. At least one of the participants here
has just that and then some. If it happens to be the actor taking
the spoken role of Bassa Selim; well so be it. His acting, in
facial expression, body language and spoken expression is outstanding
and holds the whole together. He perhaps looks a little on the
old side for Konstanze to feel emotion, and even sexual attraction,
for him. But that is how Loy and Christoph Quest play it, and
with the actor’s skill, bring it off. His sheer charisma, in
comparison with the wimp that the tall Belmonte of Christoph
Strehl conveys, would certainly turn any women with guts his
way whatever the age difference. As a gimmick Belmonte enters
via the orchestra pit carrying his suitcase and looking very
foppish in a blazer (CH.3). His husky tenor, with an edge where
the mellifluous should be, is effortful and not particularly
appealing (CHs. 3, 8, 33, 39). Diana Damrau sings his inamorata,
who he has come to rescue from the clutches of Selim. She shows
some distinction in her first attempt at a role demanding considerable
vocal flexibility and extended scale. Her singing has a pleasing
tone and good expression. Her coloratura and decoration in Ach,
ich sagt’ es wohl in act one (CH.12) is a pleasure to hear.
Likewise her Traurigkeit (CH.23) warms her voice nicely
for the formidable demands of Marten aller Arten (CH.25)
in act two. She snatches at one note, but her formidable technique
in this vocal stratosphere is commendable and not merely for
its technical accomplishment. She conveys meaning in the words
and in her acting.
Equally convincing as an actress, and looking very slim and
comely in her tight skirt and high heels, is Olga Peretyatko
as Blonde, Konstanze’s maid Osmin has set his licentious sights
on her. Her singing is secure, characterful and pleasingly phrased
(CHs. 18 and 27). She also plays an important part in the ensembles.
As her suitor Pedrillo, Norbert Ernst is rather bland as singer
and actor. His Turkish-type headgear is the only manifestation
of ‘The Orient’ to be seen. As the Harem guard, Osmin, Franz-Josef
Selig is vocally sonorous and acts the part well, albeit relishing
his thuggish portrayal a little too much for my liking. His
Oh, wie will ich triumphieren (CH.43) in act three,
as Osmin thwarts the escape plan on recovering from being induced
to drink alcohol containing a sleeping drug, is a highlight
(CH.43). His earlier agonising, as a Muslim, about partaking
of alcohol is also well conveyed by the singer.
At the end, somewhat in the manner of some productions of Cosi
Fan Tutte, the participants are left with many doubts and
stand about uncertain after Selim’s act of magnanimity. Ivor
Bolton keeps the whole performance under admirably paced control
with a firm but flexible baton and needle-sharp articulation.
His contribution brings out the Turkish patina that one expects
in Mozart’s creation and which the composer was intent on providing.
He was doubtless influenced by an interest in all things Turkish
– a fashion that was prevalent in Austria and Prussia at the
time. He had previously written most of another singspiel around
a Turkish subject, but failing to find a theatre to produce
it left the work incomplete; it came to be called Zaide.
Whilst frustrated by the failure to get his work staged he composed
the opera seria Idomeneo. This was a significant success.
Meanwhile, Gottlieb Stephanie, Stage Director at the Burgtheater,
the Court Theatre set up by Emperor Joseph II in an attempt
to promote singspiel, had been impressed with what he had seen
of Zaide. He had promised Mozart a new libretto that
would be even more congenial to him whilst also being on a Turkish
theme. This was Die Entführung aus dem Serail. Mozart
was greatly taken by the libretto and composed with enthusiasm.
In this case Mozart does not eschew formal musical structures
in pursuit of simplicity. He does not hesitate to include elaborate
arias and complex textures in the orchestra. Die Entführung
aus dem Serail was premiered on 16 July 1782 and it became
his first truly outstanding operatic success. Its music is full
of invention and vitality as well as having particular vocal
challenges for the heroine. Mozart’s concern for the Turkish
theme underlies the whole work and is also reflected in the
many additions he made to the original libretto.
Robert J Farr