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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791) Die Entführung aus dem Serail K.384. Singspiel
in three acts (1782)
rec. June 2015 OPUS ARTE DVD OA1215D [180 mins]
Like most opera lovers I have my favourite composers
and operas. High on my list are Verdi and Mozart works, the latter's
Le nozze di Figaro, one of the greatest operatic stage works
in many peoples opinion, and Verdi’s Don Carlo feature
at the top of my list. However, in the case of both named composers
there is other of their works that I love dearly which do not feature
so regularly in recordings, or live in the theatre. In the Mozart oeuvre
Die Entführung aus dem Serail, a title often shortened to Il
Seraglio, the harem in translation, features highly. After some
years of relative neglect, perhaps out of mistaken political correctness
relating to the impact of Muslim fundamentalism, this work has returned
to favour. It is defined as a singspiel, a work of musical numbers interspersed
by spoken dialogue. Perhaps to get away from the traditional and any
other sensitivities, this renaissance has 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).
I 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 and whilst not shirking a 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 in 4:3 aspect (review).
I found much to commend in a later production from Florence in 2002
by Eike Gramss with sets by Christoph Wagenknech and costumes by Catherine
Voeffray. Issued in 2011 in now standard 16:9 screen aspect it impressed
me to the extent that I gave it the imprimateur of a DVD of the month
Its timing of 136 minutes gives a clue to limitations that include severe
slashing of much of the spoken dialogue. I had experience of a full
dialogue version in a BluRay of Christof Loy’s minimalist production
filmed in the Gran Teatre de Liceu in July 2011. However, I did not
like the modern dress and minimalist set (review).
Aware of this limitation, when I heard that David McVicar, a favourite
director of mine, was to direct a new production at Glyndebourne in
2015, with the dialogue complete, I was more than a little interested
to the extent I recently bought a copy of the DVD and which I review
Die Entführung aus dem Serail was a groundbreaking work for
Mozart. As an appendix, I recount the circumstances of the work’s
creation and how it was a watershed in his compositional life. Meanwhile,
let me state quite clearly that this performance and staging, complete
with all the spoken dialogue, is the best I have seen and heard of this
work in a long life of opera going. McVicar and his designer update
the work as far as Mozart’s time, thus allowing a traditionalist
staging and which is particularly opulent and apt. The characters are
all in appropriate costume and the sets represent what we might expect
of a seraglio and not far from that to be seen today in Granada, Spain,
and built during the Ottoman Empire.
One of the consequences of the inclusion of all the spoken dialogue
is the importance of Franck Saurel, the actor who speaks the role of
Pasha Selim. He does so with his vocal nuance and body language
matching his acting, an altogether outstanding portrayal and indicating
something as to why there are times when Sally Matthews’ Konstanze’s
response to him is equivocal in respect of his sexual impact on her.
However, she maintains her dignity and faithfulness to her lover, singing
and acting outstandingly in all respects. She excels in the long recit
and aria Traurigheit ward mir zum Lose and Martern aller
Arten of Act I and shows her doughty character vocally in the second
act in particular. As her suitor, who braves the pasha’s domain
in pursuit of her, Edgaras Montvidas acts the somewhat starchy character
well whilst not quite matching her in ideal vocal mellifluousness. The
other two Europeans captured and working in the Pashas palace benefit
from two excellent portrayals and performances from Mari Eriksmoen as
Blonde, Konstanze’s maid, and the superb acting of Brenden Gunnell
as her would be lover. The manner of his acting, particularly when seeking
to spike Osmin’s ardour for Blonde, are quite magnificent. Then
there is Osmin himself. Very often the role is somewhat marred by slapstick.
Here, Tobias Kehrer creates a funny, but fearful character, such as
Mozart must have had in mind for the role. The phrases roll off his
tongue as he relishes the vocal and acted demands made on him.
To conclude my enthusiasm and pleasure at this issue, I find the conducting
by the flying fingers of conductor Robin Ticciati, and his period band
forces, to be ideal accompanists throughout, as well as bringing an
appropriate verve and vitality to the proceedings.
Robert J Farr
Cast & Performance details Pasha Selim (spoken role by an actor) – Franck Saurel; Konstanze,
Spanish lady, beloved of Belmonte – Sally Matthews (soprano);
Belmonte, Spanish nobleman, beloved of Konstanze – Edgaras Montvidas
(tenor); Blonde, maid to Konstanze – Mari Eriksmoen (soprano);
Pedrillo, Belmonte’s servant and overseer of Bassa's garden
– Brenden Gunnell (tenor); Osmin, overseer of bassa's villa
– Tobias Kehrer (bass)
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment/Robin Ticciati
Director, David McVicar. Designer, Vicki Mortimer. Lighting designer,
Video Director, François Roussillon
Filmed in HD 16:9 Anamorphic. Audio formats. Dolby Digital. dts Digital
Subtitles German (original language), English, French, Japanese, and
The composition of Die Entführung aus dem Serail and its impact
on Mozart’s operas.
Die Entführung aus dem Serail is defined as a singspiel, a
work of musical numbers interspersed by spoken dialogue. Mozart had
already had significant success with his youthful Il re pastore
and La finta giardiniera, both presented in 1775, when he seems
to have again got into the singspiel mode in the 1779-1780 Salzburg
winter with the conversion of La finta giardiniera into Die
Gärtnerin aus Liebe. This involved the replacement
of the sung recitatives by spoken dialogue as well as a change of language.
He then went further and began the composition of a further work in
this genre. Perhaps 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 recontre
imprévue that had been a runaway success since its Viennese première
1764. It is not known if he was commissioned to write that work or the
provenance of the libretto. However, after a while. and with no prospect
of a staging, Mozart abandoned it. Left without overture or final denouement
of a second act finale, the incomplete opera came to be called Zaide.
Whilst Mozart might have been frustrated by the lack of opportunities
to stage his new singspiel, the summer of 1780 brought the commission
for a new opera seria that became Idomeneo, 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 the Turkish theme. This was Die Entführung aus dem
Serail. Mozart was greatly taken by 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 aus
dem Serail was premièred on 16th of July 1782 and 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 had made to the original
libretto supplied to him.
At a personal level Mozart, after his split, not without some rancour,
from the Archbishop of Salzburg’s employment, and whilst composing
Die Entführung aus dem Serail, became engaged to Constance
the third of the Weber girls and, in respect of his fiancée, moved out
of their house. They married on August 4th 1782. Wolfgang
maintained the marital home by teaching pupils of the nobility and as
a composer including a number of piano concerti and solo arias for friends.
He appeared as soloist before the Emperor whilst still thinking of opera
and reading many possible libretti.
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