Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Die Entführung aus dem Serail - Singspiel in three acts K384 (1782)
Bassa Selim (Pasha) - Hans Peter Hallwachs (role spoken by an actor); Konstanze, Spanish lady, beloved of Belmonte - Zdzislawa Donat (soprano); Belmonte, Spanish nobleman, beloved of Konstanze - Horst Laubenthal (tenor); Blonde, maid to Konstanze - Barbara Vogel (soprano); Pedrillo, Belmonte’s servant and overseer of Bassa's garden - Norbert Orth (tenor); Osmin, overseer of Bassa's villa - Martti Talvela (bass)
Chorus and Orchestra of the Deutsche Oper Berlin/Gary Bertini
Stage Director: Günther Rennert
Stage and Costume Design: Filippo Sanjust
rec. live, Deutsche Oper Berlin, December 1976
Video Director: Karlheinz Hundorf
Picture Format: 4:3. DVD 9 / NTSC. Sound format: Mono
Subtitles: German, (original language), English, French
Booklet notes in English, French, German
ARTHAUS MUSIC DVD 101 691 [130:00]
In 1775 Mozart, not yet twenty, presented two well-received operas, Il re pastore and La finta giardiniera. These were sung in Italian, as was the tradition. Shortly afterwards, Emperor Joseph II announced his intention to open a German National Theatre in Vienna. This would be a German language Singspiel theatre presenting musical numbers interspersed with spoken dialogue. He hoped this would increase the aesthetic education of the public. In the winter of 1779-1780, Mozart then aged twenty-three, and still in the personally constraining routine of Salzburg, got the message and co-operated in a revision of La finta giardiniera into German with spoken dialogue replacing the recitative. The revision, named Die gärtnerin aus liebe is essentially a singspiel. It was premiered in Augsburg on 1 May 1780.
Mozart then, seemingly without any commission for staging, went further and began the composition of a new singspiel. Influenced by the contemporary craze in Austria and Prussia for all things Turkish this was the direction his composition took. He also doubtless had observed that Gluck’s harem opera, La Rencontre imprévue, had been a runaway success since its Viennese premiere in 1764. However, after a while, and with no prospect of a staging, Mozart abandoned the work. Left without overture or the final dénouement of a second act finale, the incomplete singspiel came to be called Zaide.
The summer of 1780 brought Mozart the commission for a new opera seria, in Italian; this became Idomeneo,a significant success for the composer. Meanwhile, Gottlieb Stephanie, Stage Director at the Burgtheater, the Court Theatre set up by Emperor Joseph II to promote singspiel, had been impressed with what he had seen of Zaide and promised Mozart a new libretto on a 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 waspremiered on 16 July 1782and becameanoutstanding success. The music is full of invention and vitality as well as having particular vocal challenges, not least 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 its own vitality and many enjoyable moments. In recent years it has been rather neglected, perhaps out of mistaken political correctness and which has also led to some rather quirky productions. The latter includes 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 it as slapstick (review), whilst at Garsington in 2013 only Mozart’s music was recognisable (review). In fact I have to go back to the early 1980s when Glyndebourne produced naturalistic and elegant sets and appropriate costumes by William Dudley that brought the best out of Mozart’s creation. This appeared, at medium price on DVD in 2013 (review).
Like that Glyndebourne production, this from Berlin owes its existence to filming for a live broadcast on TV, in this case ZDF. Also like that production, this one, by Günther Rennert with sets and costumes by Filippo Sanjust, plays it straight. It replaced an earlier one at the Deutsche Oper Berlin developed alongside the conductor Karl Böhm. Much effort was put into design and creation of the set to ensure that it reflected the Turkish nature of the story.
The cast is good and in certain cases, particularly the Osmin of the physically large, and cavernous voiced, Martti Talvela as Osmin, outstanding. His every action and vocal nuance, whether in bullying Pedrillo (CH.4) or acting drunk when he had partaken of alcohol, forbidden by his religion (CH.21), is superb. As his boss in the speaking role of Pasha Selim, Peter Hallwachs is one of the best I have seen, thoroughly convincing whether threatening Konstanze or acting with clemency towards his captives (CH.30). As Belmonte, who comes to rescue Konstanze, Horst Laubenthal is vocally elegant and mellifluous with appropriate, flexible, heady tone (CHs. 3 and 7). He makes an ardent lover. As his servant Pedrillo, currently captured and the constant subject of Osmin’s ire, fellow tenor Norbert Orth is nicely contrasted vocally with more of an edge to his voice. His acting is also excellent as seen and heard in Pedrillo’s serenade (CHs. 20 and 25) and elsewhere.
Of the captive women, Zdzislawa Donat sings Konstanze, loved by Pasha Selim, her status in the harem indicated by her opulent gowns. Her tone is light and flexible although, in an ideal world, I would have liked more colour and body in her voice. Importantly, she manages the vocal demands of both Traurigkeit and Marten aller Arten (CHs. 16 and 18) without strain and that is an important consideration. As her maid Blonde, coveted by Osmin, Barbara Vogel is pert in her acting and sings with excellent characterisation as she deals with his efforts to abduct her or accede to his demands to become his wife (CHs. 13-15).
On the rostrum Gary Bertini, if not quite in the Karl Böhm class, paces the work and its intricate dynamics with aplomb. Whilst the picture format easily adjusts to standard wide screen without undue distortion of shapes, for those addicted to DTS format there is little to be done in respect of the bright clear mono sound. The booklet details and quality are excellent. They include an essay on the background to the opera and its history at the Deutsche Oper Berlin as well as brief cast biographies and plot synopsis.
Robert J Farr
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