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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791) 
Die Entführung aus dem Serail K.384. Singspiel in three acts (1782)
Bassa Selim, spoken role – Cornelius Obonya; Konstanze – Lenneke Ruiten (soprano); Belmonte – Mauro Peter (tenor); Blonde – Sabine Devieilhe (soprano); Pedrillo – Maximilian Schmitt (tenor); Osmin – Tobias Kehrer (bass)
Orchestra and Chorus of Teatro Alla Scala, Milan/Zubin Mehta
Stage Director, Giorgio Strehler, revived by Mattia Testi. Sets revived by Carlo Ceravolo. Costumes revived by Sybille Ulsamer. Lighting, Marco Filibeck
Video Director, Daniela Vismara
rec. live, 2017, Teatro Alla Scala, Milan
Picture format, 16:9 NTSC. Filmed in HD. Sound formats PCM Stereo. Dts 5.1
Subtitles: German (original language), English, French, Korean and Japanese
C MAJOR DVD 752008 [2 DVDs 155 mins]

This production directed by the renowned Giorgio Strehler originated at The Saltsburg Festival in 1965 when it was conducted by the then twenty-nine-year-old Zubin Mehta. I, 1972 it transferred to La Scala, where it has since been frequently revived and become part of that theatre’s repertoire. In recognition of the twentieth anniversary of Strehler’s death, the La Scala management conceived the idea of reprising the production and calling on Zubin Mehta to conduct, thus making a unique celebration of the whole while paying tribute to two people who have done much to contribute to La Scala and its reputation. The period costumes of the production are quite magnificent but, it is the physical staging, particularly the lighting and the outcome of shadows and silhouettes, which define the production and its character, in combination with the palace architecture and the central sea view between two mighty portals, tastefully and variously lit as the occasion demands, with a ship passing into sight from time to time.  

I have heard Zubin Mehta in many recordings and am always aware of his grasp of the music by whichever composer featured, but also, and most importantly, his capacity to nurture the singers on stage or behind the microphones to produce their best. However, I have rarely heard him bring so much heart to his interpretation as on this occasion. Age has not blunted his musical capacity and even if his legs look rather stiff at curtains, his conducting is full of spirit and sensitivity. His subtle variations of dynamic are legendary and the singer-soloists derive much benefit from his tempi and dynamics. Of the cast, Mauro Peter as the heroic would-be rescuer of his beloved Konstanze is quite magnificent in the freedom of tone and characterisation he brings to the role, along with an elegant stance as befits his status. Lenneke Ruiten is masterful in her acting throughout and conveys Konstanze’s dilemmas and emotions with conviction, particularly in her singing of the long and fiendishly difficult vocal demands of the aria ‘Martern aller Arten’ (DVD 1 Ch.21), which could hardly be bettered in the present day. Equally impressive, dramatically and vocally, is Sabine Devieilhe as Kostanze’s maid Blonde, for whom Osmin, the overseer of Selim’s palace, lusts. She looks the part of the young ingénue and sings with grace, lightness of tone and excellent characterisation. Maximilian Schmitt as her lover and fellow prisoner Pedrillo, regularly bullied by Osmin, acts and sings well. The bullying Osmin himself is sung by Tobias Kehrer, who acts the role to the manner born even if his vocal tone has thin moments apparently as the result of unwelcome illness, but not so much as to mar the performance.

This widely admired production by one of the great producers of opera has been rescued from yesteryear by being refurbished and presented anew with its original, masterful conductor back on the rostrum, and a first-class singing cast.

Appendix: Mozart and the Singspiel format
This opera 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 Italian in 1775. He got into the Singspiel mode in the 1779-1780 Salzburg winter with the revision of La finta giardiniera into Die garterin aus liebe. As well as a change of language, this involved the replacement of the sung recitative by spoken dialogue. He then went further and began the composition of another work in this genre. It is not known if he was commissioned to write the work or the provenance of the libretto. However, perhaps influenced by the contemporary craze in Austria and Prussia for all things Turkish this theme was the basis of the composition. 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. That incomplete opera came to be called Zaide.

Meanwhile, the Singspeil 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 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 premiered on 16th of July 1782 and became Mozart’s first truly outstanding operatic success. It is full of invention and vitality as well as being particularly vocally challenging 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.
Robert J Farr

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