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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791) Die Entführung aus dem Serail - Singspiel in three acts, K384 (1782)
Bassa Selim (Pasha) - Joachim Bissmeier (spoken role by an actor); Konstanze, Spanish lady, beloved of Belmonte - Valerie Masterson (soprano); Belmonte, Spanish nobleman, beloved of Konstanze - Ryland Davies (tenor); Blonde, maid to Konstanze - Lillian Watson (soprano); Pedrillo, Belmonte’s servant and overseer of Bassa's garden - James Hobak (tenor); Osmin, overseer of Bassa's villa - Willard White (bass)
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Gustav Kuhn
Stage Director: Peter Wood
Stage Designer: William Dudley
rec. 1980, Glyndebourne Festival, Southern Television
Picture format: NTSC 4:3
Sound format: PCM Stereo
Subtitles: German (original language, English, French, Spanish
Region: 0 ARTHAUS MUSIC 102
In 1775 Mozart presented two well-received youthful operas, Il re pastore and La finta giardiniera, in the Italian language and tradition. Shortly after, Emperor Joseph II announced his plan to open a German national theatre in Vienna. He intended that this would be a singspiel venue presenting musical numbers interspersed with spoken dialogue. This was in the hope that it would increase the aesthetic education of the public. Amid the constraining routine of Salzburg in the winter of 1779-1780, now aged twenty-three, Mozart co-operated in a revision of La finta giardiniera. This entailed putting the librettointo German and having 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 began the composition of a further work in the same genre. Influenced by the contemporary craze in Austria and Prussia for all things Turkish, and ever-competitive, Mozart might also have been keen to upstage Gluck’s harem opera, La Rencontre imprévue which had been a runaway success since its Viennese premiere in 1764. It is not known if he was commissioned to write the work and we do not know the provenance of the libretto. However, with no prospect of a staging, Mozart abandoned the project. Left without overture or the final dénouement of a second act finale, the incomplete opera came to be called Zaide.
Mozart was frustrated by the lack of opportunities to stage his new singspiel. However, the summer of 1780 brought a commission for a new opera seria and this became Idomeneo - a real success. Meanwhile, Johann 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. He promised Mozart a new libretto on a Turkish theme. This was Die Entführung aus dem Serail.
Mozart was greatly taken by the libretto and composed with enthusiasm. In this work Mozart does not eschew formal musical structures 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 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.
At a personal level, Mozart, after his split, not without some rancour, from the Archbishop of Salzburg’s employment, and whilst composing Die Entführung, became engaged to Constanze, the third of the four Weber girls. In respect for his fiancée he moved out of the Weber house. They married on 4 August 1782. Wolfgang maintained the marital home by teaching pupils of the nobility. His other activities as a composer included a number of piano concertos and solo arias for friends. He appeared as soloist before the Emperor whilst still thinking of opera and reading many possible librettos.
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 (see review). Similarly, Opera North treated the work as slapstick (see review) whilst at Garsington in 2013 only Mozart’s music was recognisable (see review). I have to go back to the early 1980s and Glyndebourne for naturalistic and elegant sets. For that there were also 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 were filmed at the main Glyndebourne Festival and broadcast by Southern TV (a commercial station) and are here presented in this Arthaus video. The film is in good colour - a great improvement over the 1973 film of The Marriage of Figaro (see review) and the 1977 Don Giovanni (see review). It also boasts excellent stereo sound.
The singing cast is, with two exceptions, British. These are American James Hobak as Pedrillo, and Jamaican-born basso Willard White as a superb Osmin. As Belmonte, seeking to rescue his lover Konstanze from Selim’s harem, we have Ryland Davies. His elegant lyric tenor is near ideal among those singers then available for the role (CHs. 2 and 6). His singing and acted characterisation is at its best when Belmonte greets Konstanze and has doubts about her relationship with Selim (CHs.17-18). Otherwise he is a little stiff in his acting at times, but relishes Mozart’s phrases and singing with excellent diction. Valerie Masterson as Konstanze, the lover Belmonte has come to rescue from Bassa Selim’s harem, has to scale the vocal heights in the notorious Martern Aller Arten (CH.11). She does so with seeming ease, vocal poise and good expression. Lillian Watson is a pert and well-acted Blonde loved by Pedrillo and coveted by the harem guardian, Osmin. She too has vocal challenges to surmount and does so with aplomb. As Pedrillo, James Hobak acts the role of the bullied gardener, constantly goaded by Osmin, very well indeed. His geeky student appearance and spectacles allow Osmin some cheap fun. He shows Pedrillo’s character in getting his gaoler tipsy and thus facilitating hope for the captives’ escape (CH.14). As Osmin, Willard White is in his element mixing sly humour with his character’s nasty intentions towards all the Bassa’s prisoners. It’s an altogether outstanding characterisation. White may not have the sort of ease at the bottom of the range exhibited in contemporary performances at Salzburg by the unsurpassable Martti Talvela, but his is a portrayal I thoroughly enjoyed in the theatre those years ago as well as in this performance. Joachim Bissmeier is a rather bland Selim, not threatening enough early on so as to give weight to his magnanimity to his enemy’s son (CH.22). Close-ups of his blue eyes and bland countenance do not help (CHs.22-24).
On the rostrum Gustav Kuhn, renowned for his support for singers, paces the work without undue hurry. He allows the soloists to achieve the demanding vocal acrobatics whilst portraying the character concerned.
The booklet shows the opera divided into three acts, as it should be. However, the film is in a two-act format although the scenes are in the standard sequence.