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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Die Entführung aus dem Serail K.384, Singspiel in three acts (1782)
Bassa Selim – Cornelius Obonya (actor), 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
Giorgio Strehler (stage direction, revived by Mattia Testi), Luciano Damiani (sets and costumes, revived by Sybille Ulsamer), Marco Filibeck (lighting), Daniela Vismara (video direction)
rec. live, 2017, Teatro alla Scala, Milan
Picture: 1080i/16:9 anamorphic widescreen, filmed in HD. Sound: LPCM Stereo/ DTS-HD MA 5.1, Region code: A,B,C.
Subtitles: German, English, French, Korean, and Japanese.
C MAJOR Blu-ray 752104 [155 mins]

This new release gives Zubin Mehta the honour of having four commercial recordings of Mozart’s Turkish opera. There is a CD of his 1965 Salzburg performance (Orfeo C392952I). VAI issued a video of the 1967 Salzburg revival (DVDVAI4521), and there is a rather colourful 2002 production from Florence (review). One might almost think that this is the opera that Maestro Mehta is most identified with. I suspect that many opera lovers would think first of his recordings Turandot with Pavarotti and Sutherland and Il Trovatore with Domingo and Price.

Mehta’s association with Entführung was first given international prominence at the 1965 Salzburg Festival in a brand-new production by Giorgio Strehler. He was the 32-year-old hotshot maestro of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, seen as a rising star throughout the world. At the time of this 2017 performance he was 84, and had a long and varied career behind him. His direction on this evening is mellow and flowing. A great deal of consideration is given to the singers in their florid arias. His reading has warmth and charm, which I often find lacking in revivals of this opera. In comparison, the 1965 Entführung on CD has somewhat more excitement and edge to the reading. Yet throughout Mehta’s tempi have altered only slightly, and always there is warmth and care.

Mauro Peter as Belmonte has an elegant and burnished tenor sound, with something of a baritonal quality to his tone. His is a committed and impassioned portrayal which does not quite outshine some of his predecessors in the role. His stage presence is quite natural, and makes for a very appealing portrayal.

Lenneke Ruiten gives a tour-de-force reading of Konstanze. Her woodwind-like tone has grown in size since her Pentatone recording of Mozart arias in 2009 (PTC5186376). Her music is presented in a grand manner, with passionate expression. She is very impressive in executing the difficult coloratura roulades. I would go as far as stating that her assumption of Konstanze stands among the finest ever recorded. We can only be grateful that her performance was captured at the peak of her artistry. She also looks quite lovely, and her acting is on a level similar to her singing.

Maximillian Schmitt as Pedrillo has a very enthusiastic and charming stage presence. That helps him dispatch much of the humourous action that is relegated to Pedrillo; in this he does not disappoint. Vocally, he has an impressive-sounding top range for “Frisch zum Kampfe”, but tonal unsteadiness tends to creep into the mid- and low registers of his voice.

Sabine Devielhe is an adorable Blonde. Her natural stage presence shines through the soubrette traditions of this role. Her voice is diamond-bright, and she gives us an incredibly winning version of “Welche Wonne welche lust”.

Tobias Kehrer gives an adorable portrayal of Osmin. In this production he is more of a buffo rather than a threatening presence. This is matched by his vocal means of a rather soft-grained sound combined with a deeper, more impressive low range. Like many who have sung Osmin, he is challenged by the coloratura sections of “O wie will ich triumphieren”.

This production is a new staging of the 1965 Giorgio Strehler production for Salzburg. It was restaged by Mattia Testi in honour of the 20th anniversary of Strehler’s death. Strehler was a producer whose work in opera has become something of a legend over the years. Early in his carreer, he discovered the technique of Chiaroscuro lighting which was used in Renaissance paintings and early silent films. The complex lighting structure makes the rear of the stage more brightly lit than the front. On film, it can produce some truly wonderful cinematic images. It also has the ability to do this on stage but sadly in live performance it does not register well for home viewing. Even the exacting standards of today’s HD cameras are not up to the challenge of conveying the action which occur in the shadows at the front of the stage. Strehler’s Entführung production used this effect heavily.

In much of his later stage work, Strehler toned down the degree of use, as DVDs of his Nozze di Figaro from Paris and Don Giovanni from La Scala demonstrate. It is rather a pity that so much of the singing occurs in the dark part of the stage, which leaves us with soloists who are seen only in silhouette. In the opera house the audience are partly able to make out some of the singers’ expressions but that is not the case for home viewing. This mars what is in effect a very charming staging of Mozart’s opera. There are a few truly inspired moments where the shadow effect actually enhances the story, like when Pedrillo is tempting Osmin with the Cypriot wine. The imagery here is truly unforgettable for a moment that normally paces without much notice. The sets and costumes are spare but quite beautiful and elegant. Sound and picture quality of this Blu-ray are superlative, aside from the above-noted comments. Ultimately, while I am grateful to have this recording, the lighting issue will prevent it from being anyone’s first choice for this opera. Even so, the particularly fine singing of the female leads and Mehta’s warm and winning reading of the score should absolutely be heard.

Mike Parr

Previous review (DVD): Robert Farr

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