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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Die Entführung aus dem Serail, K384 - Singspiel in three acts (1782)
Performance details below review
ARTHAUS MUSIC DVD 102189 [148:00]

A revolution in the structure of opera composition commenced with Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice which was premiered in 1764. Gluck and his librettist set out to bury the older tradition of opera seria with its static display arias and preceding recitative, either accompanied on a piano-type instrument or 'dry', that is wholly dependant on the solo singer. They aimed to compose works of real drama and theatre. As the young Mozart embarked on his first operas, with successes such as La finta giardiniera, premiered in 1774 and, the following year, Il re pastore, he developed the genre further. Both works were sung in Italian, as was the tradition in Vienna. However, change was afoot with Emperor Joseph II keen to promote the presentation of opera in German singspiel and specifically for presentation at the Burgtheater, the Court Theatre set up by him. The singspiel format involved the use of spoken dialogue, in preference to recitative, as the story moved forward and without eschewing formal arias and duets.

Mozart got into the singspiel mode in the 1779-1780 Salzburg winter with the revision of La finta giardiniera into Die gärtnerin aus liebe. He then began the composition of a further singspiel. Perhaps influenced by the contemporary craze in Austria and Prussia for all things Turkish this 'exotic' 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 dénouement of the second act finale. The incomplete opera came to be called Zaide.

The Intendant at the Burgtheater had been impressed with what he had seen of Mozart’s Zaide and promised him a new libretto on the Turkish theme. This was Die Entführung aus dem Serail. Mozart was greatly taken by the libretto and composed with enthusiasm. In the work the composer adopts formal musical structures in pursuit of simplicity, not hesitating to include elaborate arias and complex textures in the orchestra. Die Entführung aus dem Serail 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 aspect underlies the whole work and is also reflected in the many additions he had made to the original libretto supplied to him.

In the accompanying booklet notes under the heading The Performance, the author argues that the librettos for this work and Mozart’s other great singspiel, Die Zauberflöte, "are weak and confront directors with the problem of how to turn a naïve story into a creditable production". He states that this has led to efforts to tell the story "through numerous different interpretations over the past few decades". That is true with updated and what we call 'regietheater' productions often the norm. One likes them or one does not. My own view is that if a composer looking down on a performance from wherever establishment de repos he may inhabit, does not recognise his creation without the benefit of his accompanying music, then the producer’s concept has failed. Here, producer Hans Neuenfels aims to retain the story’s naivety and absurdity by splitting the characters, placing an actor at every singer’s side. The actor not only takes over his role for the spoken dialogue, but interacts with the singer and other characters. This seems to involve changes to the dialogue and interactions that the author calls "moments of existential enigma" that, I suggest, Mozart would not have recognised.
Trying hard to put any preconceived prejudices aside I embarked on my viewing. I found the overture to be rather frenetic. As for the doubling, sometimes the singer speaks the words, this is confusing and the additions are presumptuous. The meeting between Belmonte and Pedrillo (CH.6) involving four people is a good example. The video director uses excessive close-ups of faces and pistols are waved about. The singing is adequate with Roland Bracht pleasingly sonorous as Osmin whilst Matthias Link has an uncomfortable edge to his tenor. Otherwise the singing cast is less convincing and more provincial than the kind of casting usually seen in recorded presentations. I cannot say that I enjoyed the experience in any manner but recognise that others might.

Robert J Farr

Performance details
Sung cast: Konstanze, Spanish lady, beloved of Belmonte and captured by Selim – Catherine Naglestad (soprano); Belmonte, Spanish nobleman, beloved of Konstanze – Matthias Klink (tenor); Blonde, maid to Konstanze – Kate Ladner (soprano); Pedrillo, Belmonte’s servant and overseer of Bassa's garden – Heinz Göhrig (tenor); Osmin, overseer of Bassa's villa – Roland Bracht (bass)
Spoken cast: Bassa Selim: Johannes Terne; Konstanze: Emanuela von Frankenberg; Blonde: Carola Friewald; Belmonte: Alexander Bognor; Pedrillo: Alexander von Heldenreich; Osmin: Andrea Grötzinger
Chorus and Orchestra of the Staatsoper Stuttgart/Lothar Zagrosek
Stage Director: Hans Neuenfels
Set Design: Christian Scmidt
Costume Design: Bettina Merz
rec. live, 1999
Video Director: Janos Darvas
Picture format: 16:9
Sound format: PCM Stereo
Subtitles: German (original language), English, French, Spanish
Booklet notes and synopsis: English, French, GermanThis double casting of actors and singers does not add much to Mozart’s first great success.