Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Il turco in Italia at the Aix Festival

Twenty years ago stage director Christopher Alden introduced Rossini’s then forgotten comedy to Southern California audiences in a production that is still remembered. In Aix Alden has revisited this complex work that many critics now consider Rossini’s greatest comedy.

First Night of the BBC Proms : Elgar The Kingdom

The BBC Proms 2014 season began with Sir Edward Elgars The Kingdom (1903-6). It was a good start to the season,which commemorates the start of the First World War. From that perspective Sir Andrew Davis's The Kingdom moved me deeply.

Le nozze di Figaro, Munich

One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.

Winterreise and Trauernacht at the Aix Festival

That’s A Winter’s Journey and A Night of Mourning for metteurs-en-scène William Kentridge (South Africa) and Katie Mitchell (Great Britain), completing the clean sweep of English language stage directors for the Aix Festival productions this year.

James Gilchrist at Wigmore Hall

Assured elegance, care and thoughtfulness characterised tenor James Gilchrist’s performance of Schubert’s Schwanengesang at the Wigmore Hall, the cycles’ two poets framing a compelling interpretation of Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte.

Music for a While: Improvisations on Henry Purcell

‘Music for a while shall all your cares beguile.’ Dryden’s words have never seemed as apt as at the conclusion of this wonderful sequence of improvisations on Purcell’s songs and arias, interspersed with instrumental chaconnes and toccatas, by L’Arpeggiata.

Nabucco at Orange

The acoustic of the gigantic Théâtre Antique Romain at Orange cannot but astonish its nine thousand spectators, the nearly one hundred meter breadth of the its proscenium inspires awe. There was excited anticipation for this performance of Verdi’s first masterpiece.

Saint Louis: A Hit is a Hit is a Hit

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has once again staked claim to being the summer festival “of choice” in the US, not least of all for having mounted another superlative world premiere.

La Flûte Enchantée (2e Acte)
at the Aix Festival

In past years the operas of the Aix Festival that took place in the Grand Théâtre de Provence began at 8 pm. The Magic Flute began at 7 pm, or would have had not the infamous intermittents (seasonal theatrical employees) demanded to speak to the audience.

Ariodante at the Aix Festival

High drama in Aix. Three scenarios in conflict — those of G.F. Handel, Richard Jones and the intermittents (disgruntled seasonal theatrical employees). Make that four — mother nature.

Lucy Crowe, Wigmore Hall

The programme declared that ‘music, water and night’ was the connecting thread running through this diverse collection of songs, performed by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Anna Tilbrook, but in fact there was little need to seek a unifying element for these eclectic works allowed Crowe to demonstrate her expressive range — and offered the audience the opportunity to hear some interesting rarities.

The Turn of the Screw, Holland Park

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars.

Plenty of Va-Va-Vroom: La Fille du Regiment, Iford

It is not often that concept, mood, music and place coincide perfectly. On the first night of Opera della Luna’s La Fille du Regiment at Iford Opera in Wiltshire, England we arrived with doubts (rather large doubts it should be admitted)as to whether Donizetti’s “naive and vulgar” romp of militarism and proto-feminism, peopled with hordes of gun-toting soldiers and praying peasants, could hardly be contained, surely, inside Iford’s tiny cloister?

La finta giardiniera, Glyndebourne

‘Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,/ Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend/ More than cool reason ever comprehends.’

Sophie Karthäuser, Wigmore Hall

Belgian soprano Sophie Karthäuser has a rich range of vocal resources upon which to draw: she has power and also precision; her top is bright and glinting and it is complemented by a surprisingly full and rich lower register; she can charm with a flowing lyrical line, but is also willing to take musical risks to convey emotion and embody character.

Ariadne auf Naxos, Royal Opera

‘When two men like us set out to produce a “trifle”, it has to become a very serious trifle’, wrote Hofmannsthal to Strauss during the gestation of their opera about opera.

Leoš Janáček : The Cunning Little Vixen, Garsington Opera at Wormsley

Janáček started The Cunning Little Vixen on the cusp of old age in 1922 and there is something deeply elegiac about it.

La Traviata in Marseille

It took only a couple of years for Il trovatore and Rigoletto to make it from Italy to the Opéra de Marseille, but it took La traviata (Venice, 1853) sixteen years (Marseille, 1869).

Madama Butterfly in San Francisco

Gesamtkunstwerk, synthesis of fable, sound, shape and color in art, may have been made famous by Richard Wagner, and perhaps never more perfectly realized than just now by San Francisco Opera.

Luca Francesconi : Quartett, Linbury Studio Theatre, London

Luca Francesconi is well-respected in the avant garde. His music has been championed by the Arditti Quartett and features regularly in new music festivals. His opera Quartett has at last reached London after well-received performances in Milan and Amsterdam.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

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):