Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Performances

Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg in San Francisco

Falstaff and Die Meistersinger are among the pinnacles if not the pinnacles of nineteenth century opera. Both operas are atypical of the composer and both operas are based on a Shakespeare play.

Le Nozze di Figaro, Manitoba Opera

To borrow from the great Bard himself: “the course of true love never did run smooth.”

Arizona Opera Presents Florencia in el Amazonas

Florencia in el Amazonas was the first Spanish-language opera to be commissioned by major United States opera houses.

Viva la Mamma!: A Fun Evening at POP

Gaetano Donizetti wrote a comedy or dramma giocoso called Le convenienze ed inconvenienze teatrali (The Conventions and Inconveniences of the Theater), which is also known by the shorter title, Viva La Mamma!.

LA Opera Norma: A Feast for the Ears

Vincenzo Bellini composed Norma to a libretto that Felice Romani had fashioned after Alexandre Soumet’s French play, Norma, ossia L'infanticidio (Norma, or The Infanticide).

Alban Berg’s Wozzeck at Lyric Opera of Chicago

In order to mount a successful production of Alban Berg’s opera Wozzeck, first performed in 1925, the dramatic intensity and lyrical beauty of the score must become the focal point for participants.

Florilegium at Wigmore Hall

During this exploration of music from the Austro-German Baroque, Florilegium were joined by the baritone Roderick Williams in a programme of music which placed the music and career of J.S. Bach in the context of three older contemporaries: Franz Tunder (1614-67), Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1701) and Heinrich Biber (1644-1704).

Leoncavallo’s Zazà by Opera Rara

Charismatic charm, vivacious insouciance, fervent passion, dejected self-pity, blazing anger and stoic selflessness: Zazà — a chanteuse raised from the backstreets to the bright lights — is a walking compendium of emotions.

L'ospedale - an anonymous opera rediscovered

‘Stay away from doctors; they are bad for your health.’ This seems to be the central message of L’Ospedale - a one-hour opera by an unknown seventeenth-century composer, with a libretto by Antonio Abati which presents a satirical critique of the medical profession of the day and those who had the misfortune to need curative treatment for their physical and mental ills.

Šimon Voseček : Biedermann and the Arsonists

‘In these times of heightened security … we are listening, watching …’

René Pape, Joseph Calleja, Kristine Opolais, Boito Mefistofele, Munich

Arrigo Boito Mefistofele was broadcast livestream from the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich last night. What a spectacle !

Calixto Bieito’s The Force of Destiny

The monochrome palette of Picasso’s Guernica and the mural’s anti-war images of suffering dominate Calixto Bieito’s new production of Verdi’s The Force of Destiny for English National Opera.

Morgen und Abend — World Premiere, Royal Opera House

The world premiere of Morgen und Abend by Georg Friedrich Haas at the Royal Opera House, London — so conceptually unique and so unusual that its originality will confound many.

Company XIV Combines Classic and Chic in an Exquisite Cinderella

Company XIV’s production of Cinderella is New York City theater at its finest. With a nod to the court of Louis the XIV and the grandiosity of Lully’s opera theater, Company XIV manages to preserve elements of the French Baroque while remaining totally innovative, and never—in fact, not once for the entire two and a half hour show—falls prey to the predictable. Not one detail is left to chance in this finely manicured yet earthily raw production of Cinderella.

Monteverdi by The Sixteen at Wigmore Hall

This was a concert where immense satisfaction was derived equally from the quality of musicianship displayed and the coherence and resourcefulness of the programme presented. In 1610, Claudio Monteverdi published his Vespro della Beata Vergine for soloists, chorus, and orchestra.

Dialogues des Carmélites Revival at Dutch National Opera

If not timeless, Robert Carsen’s production of Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites is highly age-resistant.

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari: Le donne curiose

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari was one of the Italian composers of the post-Puccini generation (which included Licinio Refice, Riccardo Zandonai, Umberto Giordano and Franco Leoni) who struggled to prolong the verismo tradition in the early years of the twentieth century.

Moby-Dick Surfaces in the City of Angels

On Saturday evening October 31, 2015, the Nantucket whaling ship Pequod journeyed to Los Angeles Opera and began its sixth voyage in the attempt to kill the elusive whale called Moby-Dick.

Great Scott at the Dallas Opera

Great Scott is a combination of a parody of bel canto opera and an operatic version of All About Eve. Beloved American diva Arden Scott (Joyce DiDonato), has discovered the score to a long-lost opera “Rosa Dolorosa, Figlia di Pompeii” and has become committed to getting the work revived as a vehicle for her. “Rosa Dolorosa” has grand musical moments and a hilariously absurd plot.

Schubert and Debussy at Wigmore Hall

The most recent instalment of the Wigmore Hall’s ambitious series, ‘Schubert: The Complete Songs’, was presented by soprano Lucy Crowe, pianist Malcolm Martineau and harpist Lucy Wakeford.



Diana Damrau as Konstanze in Mozart's
07 May 2008

Die Entführung aus dem Serail

Die Entführung aus dem Serail is too light to be a grand opera, but it makes rather grander demands of its singers than operetta could possibly bear.

W. A. Mozart: Die Entführung aus dem Serail

Konstanze: Diana Damrau; Blondchen: Aleksandra Kurzak; Belmonte: Matthew Polenzani; Pedrillo: Steve Davislim; Osmin: Kristinn Sigmundsson; Pasha Selim: Matthias von Stegmann. Conducted by David Robertson; John Dexter production restaged by Max Charruyer. Metropolitan Opera, performance of April 30

Above: Diana Damrau as Konstanze in Mozart's "Die Entführung aus dem Serail."
All photos by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.


What, then, is it?

Mozart was eager to make a splash in the music scene of Vienna, to which he had just moved, and in the opera scene of Central Europe under a discriminating and forward-thinking patron, Joseph II, and – not a little – as a figure in the Enlightenment, the shining of a new light of universal brotherhood and citizenship in which glow humanity would emerge from the prejudices and bigotries of old. With his delicious Seraglio, Mozart failed and he triumphed: during his brief lifetime, it was the most popular of his operas, a hit throughout the German-speaking world.

Joseph II, himself newly liberated from the restraints of his mother and “co-regent,” Maria Theresa, was seeking new ways to give unity to his disparate realms (from Transylvania to Flanders to Milan). Nationalism seemed a likely card to play and in that cause he created a German national theater in Vienna to which the most talented actors and playwrights were invited. That success inspired him to attempt a German opera company, replacing all the Italian stuff, perhaps building on the ballad-operas that an English import, The Beggars’ Opera, had spun off all across the land. This new plan was not a success – none of the contributions to it were very inspired except Seraglio, the last, for which both Mozart and Joseph had the highest hopes.

Here, as so often, Mozart got carried away: He paid his audiences the compliment of assuming they were intelligent enough to understand what he was up to. Upon a traditional escape-plot, with exotic music inspired by Janissary marching bands, he devised a fable of true love tested – and rewarded, thanks to an enlightened pasha who, alas, never gets to sing anything. But for the resourceful Belmonte and stalwart Konstanze, whose high birth must be demonstrated so as not to let the message seem too revolutionary, Mozart composed music as difficult to sing as it is wonderful to hear. Indeed, only a most Italian-trained singer could possibly get through Konstanze’s music in any decent shape – she may well be the single most difficult role in the dramatic coloratura repertory.

This was not at all the Germanic simplicity Joseph was looking for, and he was a little startled: “Too beautiful for our ears, my dear Mozart, and a monstrous lot of notes,” he is said to have commented. Those inclined to hoot at the monarch for his folly should try to sing either lead role before they do so, or listen to the hash most top-ranked divas make of Konstanze’s arias, whose demands Mozart enhanced to display the phenomenal agility of Salieri’s mistress, Caterina Cavalieri, who created the part. A soprano once told me, “They say ‘Martern aller Arten’ is the toughest thing to sing in the entire repertory, and it’s true – because ‘Ach ich liebte’ cannot be sung!”

Aleksandra Kurzak as Blondchen and Kristinn Sigmundsson as Osmin in Mozart's 'Die Entführung aus dem Serail.'Aleksandra Kurzak as Blondchen and Kristinn Sigmundsson as Osmin in Mozart's "Die Entführung aus dem Serail."

Diana Damrau made rather a splash last fall singing Pamina and the Queen of the Night in alternate performances of The Magic Flute – but Konstanze is a tougher part than either of those, and Damrau’s attractive but not abnormally agile soprano was simply not up to it: colorless trills, tuneless runs, desperate and ill-supported leaps at the pitch that one can’t really justify by reference to her desperate situation in the plot. There were some lovely triplet figures in “Ach ich liebte” and she got through “Martern aller Arten” honorably but not pleasurably. She was less “constant” than one had hoped.

Alexandra Kurzak, who has also made a success of the Queen of the Night, had a far easier time with the far easier role of Blondchen.

Matthew Polenzani has sung Mozart roles – including Belmonte at the City Opera a few years ago, but even more so Ferrando in the Met’s last run of Così fan tutte – with a grace, an elegance, an ease of phrase from top to bottom that place him among the finest Mozart tenors not only of this generation but previous ones – one thought of Wunderlich, Valetti and Gedda. But this time around his Belmonte was rough going – he hit the notes, but the sound was less than delectable, a gravelly quality creeping in. Far more pleasing was the tenor of Steve Davislim, a debutant, as Pedrillo; his preposterous “Moorish” serenade in Act III could have gone on for three or four more verses without wearying the ear. All four singers – despite a little shrillness from Miss Kurzak – reached their peak during the splendid lover’s quarrel quartet that ends Act II, the first “conversational” concertato in opera, from which so much was to develop.

Kritinn Sigmundsson, a witty actor with a fine, house-filling, orotund bass, was almost all one could wish for in an Osmin – the one character untouched by the “enlightened” multicultural benevolence, and therefore the one who makes that achievement seem as impressive as it is. Sigmundsson, alas, lacks the low F’s and E’s that a great Osmin requires – that Kurt Moll and Matti Salminen had – but gave such pleasure it was easy to overlook this flaw. Matthias von Stegmann seemed a bit effete in the non-singing role of the sentimental Pasha – he did wave those long-stemmed roses about a bit much. (Like many other admirers of this opera, I’ve always regretted that the Pasha does not sing – couldn’t we transfer an aria or two from Mozart’s unfinished other Turkish singspiel, Zaide? And maybe drop one of Belmonte’s four repetitive arias to fit it in?)

Matthew Polenzani as Belmonte, Steve Davislim as Pedrillo, Aleksandra Kurzac as Blondchen and Diana Damrau as Konstanze in Mozart's 'Die Entführung aus dem Serail.' Matthew Polenzani as Belmonte, Steve Davislim as Pedrillo, Aleksandra Kurzac as Blondchen and Diana Damrau as Konstanze in Mozart's "Die Entführung aus dem Serail."

The old John Dexter production is restaged at each revival; there is nowadays more beefcake on display (Dexter would have enjoyed that), but in general Max Charruyer’s revisions are sensible, coherent – and funny. David Robertson made rather scrappy work of the exquisite overture, and the flutes were rackety during “Martern aller Arten,” but this lovely little masterpiece’s many parts fell by and large neatly into place.

John Yohalem

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):