Archive for February 14, 2010

The Abduction from the Seraglio

Posted in Opera with tags , , , on February 14, 2010 by telescoper

It’s been an unusually long time since I last went to the Opera, but now the spring season of Welsh National Opera has finally arrived I couldn’t resist the chance last night to see their brand new and wonderfully entertaining production of The Abduction from the Seraglio by Mozart. It was also nice to be accompanied on this occasion by fellow astrologists Ed and Haley, who I hope enjoyed the show as much as I did.

I was particularly glad to see this on the schedule for this season because it’s an Opera I haven’t seen staged before and didn’t know very much about. Mozart composed the music for  it in 1781, when he was at the ripe old age of 25 , to a libretto in German and with the title Die Entführung aus dem Serail. The WNO production is sung in the original language, which is the way I like it.

Like  The Magic Flute, which Mozart wrote about a decade later, The Abduction is a singspiel rather than an opera, in that the recitative is spoken rather than sung. The music is not through-composed as you find in a true opera, but a series of set-piece arias, duets, trios and quartets. Still, Mozart was pretty good at those. It’s also, in case you hadn’t realised, like the Magic Flute, a comedy which Mozart was also pretty good at!

The plot, such as it is, concerns the hero Belmonte’s search for his beloved Konstanze, her servant Blonde and his own servant Pedrillo, who have been captured by the Turk Pasha Selim who hopes to persuade Konstanze to join the harem inside his Seraglio. The Pasha’s heavy, Osmin, acts as bouncer, keeping Belmonte from getting into the place and releasing the captives but eventually, Pedrillo tricks Osmin into drinking some drugged wine; while he’s asleep the lovers are re-united. However, the attempt by Belmonte and Pedrillo to help  Konstanze and Blonde escape is botched and they are captured by Pasha Selim and his guards. Contrary to all expectations, however, the Pasha doesn’t take his revenge, but allows them to leave. Osmin flies into a rage and suffers some sort of splenetic seizure. The Opera ends with the others celebrating their freedom, while Pasha Selim consoles himself with his other wives and a hookah.

It’s admittedly a bit thin, even by the standards of comic opera but, right from the fabulous overture, the music is lovely and there’s a great deal of good-humoured fun, especially during the Pasha’s attempt to shower Konstanze with gifts of jewelry, frocks and shoes, in Act 2, and the abduction itself, in Act 3, which is bungled in appropriately hilarious fashion.

Belmonte was played by Robin Tritschler, who has a tenor voice of exceptional clarity and beauty and who invested his role with an engaging wide-eyed innocence. Petros Magoulas played the psychopathic Osmin for laughs and provided the performance with some of its funniest moments. Pedrillo was played by local boy Wynne Evans and Blonde was Claire Ormshaw; both were excellent, musically and comedically. Pasha Selim was also very well played by Simon Thorpe. The Pasha has to appear a bit frightening early on, so that his later magnanimity comes as a surprise; this he did very well. The only weak point I felt was Lisette Oropesa as the heroine Konstanze. She didn’t sing at all well in Act I, perhaps owing to first-night nerves,  but seemed to settle down by Act 2 where she coped with the coloratura a lot better. Her acting, however, was extremely disappointing and, at times, downright embarassing. It wasn’t enough to spoil the production – at least not for me – but it was a shame, as a really good night could have been a truly superb one.

Finally I should mention that all the action is set on the Orient Express, circa 1920, with costumes and props of that period too. The scenery is cleverly designed so that it can be slid to and fro along the stage to reveal cabins either side of the main saloon at its centre. The whole thing looks wonderful and the mobile set also provided comic moments of its own, especially during the abduction scene when Pedrillo is accidentally left clinging to the outside of the train.

I was left wondering to some extent why this Opera isn’t better known. It’s probably because it  doesn’t have the subtlety of the famous da Ponte comedies, but the music is gorgeous especially in the passages for multiple voices, such as the quartet in Act II. In other passages the music  sounds a bit like a parts of the Magic Flute. In many ways I think you can see this piece as Mozart on his way to perfecting the style he would achieve in these works. It’s pretty good, but perhaps doomed to lie in the shadow of his later masterpieces.

All in all, a great night out. There’s only one other performance of The Abduction from the Seraglio in Cardiff (next Saturday, 20th February) and then it goes on the road. I’m not sure there are any tickets remaining for next week:  if there are, it’s well worth seeing but if not then all is not lost – it’s likely this will be in the WNO repertoire for some time to come.