This opera is defined as a singspiel, a work of musical numbers interspersed with spoken dialogue. Mozart had already had significant success with his youthful Il re pastore
and La finta giardiniera
, both presented in Italian in 1775. He got into singspiel mode in the 1779-1780 Salzburg winter with the revision of La finta giardiniera
into Die gärtnerin aus liebe
. As well as a change of language this involved the replacement of the sung recitative with spoken dialogue. He then went further and began the composition of another work in this genre. It is not known whether he was commissioned to write the work neither do we know the provenance of the libretto. Perhaps influenced by the contemporary craze in Austria and Prussia for all things Turkish this theme was the basis of the composition. However, after a while and with no prospect of a staging, Mozart abandoned it, leaving it without overture or final denouement of a second act finale. The incomplete opera came to be called Zaide
Meanwhile, the singspiel mode took a turn for the better with Emperor Joseph II keen to promote it at the Burgtheater, the Court Theatre set up by him. The Intendant had been impressed with what he had seen of Mozart’s Zaide
and promised Mozart a new libretto that would be congenial to him whilst also being on the Turkish theme. This was Die Entführung aus dem Serail.
Mozart was greatly taken with the libretto and composed with enthusiasm. In the work Mozart does not eschew formal musical forms in pursuit of simplicity and does not hesitate to include elaborate arias and complex textures in the orchestra. Die Entführung
was premiered on 16 July 1782 and became Mozart’s 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 had made to the original libretto supplied to him.
I have always enjoyed this opera, which, whilst not being the equal of Mozart’s later and greatest singspiel, Die Zauberflöte
, has many enjoyable moments. In recent years it has been rather neglected, perhaps out of mistaken political correctness. This has also led to some rather quirky productions including one 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
) whilst at Garsington in 2013 only Mozart’s music was recognisable (review
). On that occasion Pasha Selim was shown the owner of a football club around which the new plot revolved, his compassion for the lovers being influenced by the success of his team. I have to go back to the early 1980s when Glyndebourne produced naturalistic and elegant sets and appropriate costumes by William Dudley alongside a touring cast that brought the best out of Mozart’s creation. Those elegant sets and costumes allied to Peter Wood’s production, filmed at the main Glyndebourne Festival and broadcast by the Southern commercial TV station, are now available in DVD format (review
Like Garsington this Salzburg production bears no relationship with Mozart’s plot or even a Turkish theme. The set is the open spaces of Hangar 7 at Salzburg Airport. This is a vast space devoted to an aircraft museum along with vintage cars, plush eating spaces and bars. The audience follow the proceedings around the walkways, cockpits and whatever of this vast set, often carrying their wine glasses. The singers are miked and wired up to receive the orchestral music, which comes from a neighbouring hangar. The electrical apparatus can be seen behind the singers' necks and into earpieces. It works most of the time with only an odd occasion of slip. In the opening overture Hans Graf is rather frenetic but settles down.
There is no pretence of Turkishness or a Seraglio. All are in modern dress. It would appear that Selim, a rather cruel looking cove, is a fashion designer with clothing being seen in production to patterns he inspects. Osmin is seen working metal to improve his muscularity; possibly to attract Blonde. Her preferred squeeze, Pedrillo, is a barman whilst Belmonte comes along seeking to be engaged as a perfumier. All these shenanigans might be OK if the singing performance were up to the usual Salzburg international standard. Osmin is sung by Kurt Rydl whose performance I admired in the recording from Florence in 2002 (review
). On this occasion his voice is past its sell-by date with loose rusty tone evident along with unsteadiness. Javier Camarena as Belmonte seems rather stiff and uncomfortable, his pleasant tone only occasionally warming or soaring. As Konstanze, Desirée Rancatore, a late replacement for the incomparable Diana Damrau, just about fills the role after a tentative start. Rebecca Nelsen makes a good shot of Blonde’s music whilst Thomas Ebenstein acts and sings well as Pedrillo.
I have seen some strange adaptations of venue for opera staging in my time, but this takes the biscuit. If you are an iconoclastic modernist then shell out your hard-earned money. If, however, you think Mozart knew best then look elsewhere. This performance is also available in DVD format.
This must go down as the ultimate modernist, concept production of this opera or any other. If that appeals then buy it, whilst Mozart lovers may look elsewhere, there is plenty of choice.
Robert J Farr