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Matthew Polenzani as Belmonte, Erin Wall as Konstanze [Photo by Dan Rest/Lyric Opera of Chicago]
19 Apr 2009

Die Entführung aus dem Serail at Chicago Lyric

In its new production of Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail (The Abduction from the Seraglio) Lyric Opera of Chicago has achieved a fusion of eighteenth-century sensibilities with a modern adaptation of traditional dramatic and stage techniques.

W. A. Mozart: Die Entführung aus dem Serail

Belmonte: Matthew Polenzani; Konstanze: Erin Wall; Osmin: Andrea Silvestrelli; Blonde: Aleksandra Kurzak; Pedrillo: Steve Davislim; Pasha Selim: David Steiger. Lyric Opera of Chicago. Sir Andrew Davis, conductor. Chas Rader-Shieber, director.

Above: Matthew Polenzani as Belmonte, Erin Wall as Konstanze

All photos by Dan Rest/Lyric Opera of Chicago

 

The result is a production that is both entertaining and respectful of the score and text, with a uniformly high level of singing as well as dramatic commitment. The Lyric Opera Orchestra is led by Sir Andrew Davis, who elicits crisp playing with, at times, broad strokes to suggest the forthcoming dramatic urgency, complications, and eventual resolutions.

Already during the overture to this production the traditional concept of a dramatic frame is used to highlight perspectives on the forthcoming action. As will be revealed during the opening numbers of the first act, Konstanze and her attendant Blonde have been captured at sea and are now held at the court of the Pasha Selim. For the present production, through the course of the spirited overture, the figure of an elderly man is seen picking up roses strewn on the ground; further, he seems to be caught deep in silent contemplation, perhaps musing on events of the past. As the overture draws to a suggestive close, the lighting dims on this figure so that he is obscured, shortly before a trap door in the center of the stage opens. The audience has been effectively transported into the reverie of the now aged Pasha, as he recalls his attempts in the past to force the affections of the captive Konstanze. Indeed out of the trap door now climbs Belmonte, the nobleman who, in the recollection of the Pasha, has come in search of his beloved Konstanze. In the leading tenor role of Belmonte Matthew Polenzani has found an ideal match for his vocal talents. The urgency of his emotional quest becomes immediately apparent as he climbs up onto the stage and begins “Hier soll ich dich denn sehen” [“Here I hope to finally see you”]. In this first aria Polenzani demonstrates the effect of his elegant vocal line, a requisite in Mozart’s extended arias composed for tenor in the Entführung. The seemingly endless flow of “Bringe mich ans Ziel” [“Help me to reach the goal”], sung here by Polenzani with admirable legato as he gazes at a miniature portrait of Konstanze, underscores Belmonte’s commitment to finding and saving his beloved. Of course all manner of obstacles will present themselves, such as the immediately following exchange with Osmin, lead servant of the Pasha. Belmonte persists in asking if he has truly come upon the palace, while Osmsin seems distracted by amorous determination with women from the harem. In the role of Osmin Andrea Silvestrelli projects an appropriate gruffness while negotiating the vocal line with considerable variety. In the first part of his duet with Belmonte Silvestrelli’s sonorous bass emphasizes Osmin’s self-absorption while ignoring the visitor’s queries. When Belmonte mentions the name of his squire Pedrillo, who was captured along with Konstanze and her maid Blonde, Osmin’s attention is quickly riveted to the immediate situation at court. He unleashes a spirited attack on intruders, in which he declares full awareness of their villainy. This diatribe is sung with comic lyricism by Silvestrelli, only losing some of the syllables in the fastest passagework. As Pedrillo enters for a happy reunion with his master Belmonte, the two hatch a plan to introduce the nobleman as an architect offering his services to the Pasha. In the role of Pedrillo the tenor Steve Davislim poses an ideal foil to his love-lorn and anxious master. From this point to the close of the first act Davislim encourages and cajoles, at once weaving between the threats of Osmin and the dignified grandeur of the Pasha. In his extensive parts performed in dialogue during these scenes Davislim’s idiomatic command of German adds to the effectiveness of his character’s portrayal.

abduction10.gif(l-r) Erin Wall (Konstanze), Andrea Silvestrelli (Osmin), Aleksandra Kurzak (Blonde)

Once Belmonte learns from his squire that Konstanze has survived and has remained faithful, he sings the well-known aria “O wie ängstlich, o wie feurig” [“O how anxious, o with what passion!”] in order to describe the feelings pulsing from his heart. Polenzani’s carefully projected legato and soft notes support a convincing interpretation with dramatic spirit. At first, he touches his cheek to emphasize a line (“Es glüht mir die Wange” [“My cheek is glowing”]), before he intones “feurig” (“fiery”) with decided conviction, repeating and varying the aria’s fist line. Once he and Pedrillo leave the stage, Konstanze enters in the company of the Pasha. In her response to her captor’s urging that she submit to his affections, Konstanze protests that she still loves Belmonte. In her aria “Ach, ich liebte” (“Ah, but I loved”) Erin Wall in the soprano role of Konstanze confirms her reputation as a fine Mozart singer. In this first aria Ms. Wall maintains firm control of the vocal line with notable decoration while investing great feeling in her intonation of the text. In this sense, she and Polenzani are well-balanced vocally as the lovers awaiting reunion beyond daunting obstacles. Konstanze is now granted only one day further by the Pasha in order to yield to his demands.

The final scene of Act I demonstrates not only the importance of ensemble in Mozart’s Entführung but also the success of Lyric Opera’s new production at rendering both drama and music in scenes involving groups. Once Pedrillo introduces Belmonte to the Pasha as an aspiring architect, a door lifts at the stage center symbolizing the entrance to the palace garden. Osmin stands guard and refuses admission to the two intruders as he sees them. During the following trio sung by the male principals, the slaves and members of the harem move about the stage with ballet-like effect, the door as symbol remaining a goal thoughout the weaving movements. As the act concludes, Belmonte and his squire escape into the garden while the moving chorus prevents Osmin from stopping them at the door.

Abduction16.gifMatthew Polenzani (Belmonte), Steve Davislim (Pedrillo), Erin Wall (Konstanze), Aleksandra Kurzak (Blonde)

At the start of Act II the comic scene between Blonde and Osmin sets the tone for their encounters during the remainder of the opera. Osmin’s commands to Blonde that she should immediately love him are met with indignant reminders that European women are not accustomed to such treatment. As Alexandra Kurzak in the role of Blonde reminds her pursuer with the words “Denen begegnet man ganz anders” [“One treats such women quite differently”], she begins her aria ‘Durch Zärtlichkeit und Schmeicheln” [“With tenderness an flattery”] on a note of superiority. Ms. Kurzak had been unable to sing the first performance because of illness and was making her debut during the performance reviewed. Her impeccable diction and sprightly acting fit the character of Blonde admirably, while the line and vocal command shown here and in later arias and ensembles demonstrate the work of an accomplished Mozart singer. In the following extended scena Konstanze sings at first of her suffering and subsequently declares her intention to remain faithful to her lover until death. Ms. Wall performs this two-part scene with exemplary focus on the text, her repetitions of “Traurigkeit” [“Sadness”] in the first part addressed to Blonde being invested with a genuine communication of feeling. The staging at this point draws on poses and techniques reminiscent of eighteenth-century practice, with a simplicity underscoring the effective acting of the principals. After comparing her life to a “rose blighted” that “withers away,” Konstanze again faces the Pasha who reminds her that the deadline has arrived. Her response, the aria “Martern aller Arten” [“Torments of all kinds”] as the second number in this extended scene, is sung by Ms. Wall with dramatic flair and a confident, firm use of coloratura decoration. The well-deserved ovation given the performance of this vocal showpiece of the opera was a comment not only on the exquisite singing but also on the use of voice as an instrument in acting. During the aria a shallow revolving platform at the stage center kept the Pasha and Konstanze at a measured distance from each other; the rotating structure is used again later in the act when Pedrillo outwits Osmin and praises the power of wine.

The remaining scenes of the second act give rise to the hope of escape. Pedrillo appears in numbers together with his Blonde and with his master Belmonte. Both Davislim and Kurzak excel vocally in their solo reactions to plans hatched to free Konstanze. Ms. Kurzak introduces well-placed appogiaturas and dwells significantly on the word “Herzen” [“heart”]. Davislim uses his upper register to great effect especially when he sings forte on the phrases “Es sei gewagt” [“Let us dare the deed”] and “zum Streite” [“to the fight!”]. His comic scene with Osmin, the latter falling into a drunken stupor despite his protests, shows a firm sense of timing and stage gestures. After Belmonte’s re-entry the two couples are finally united. The quartet “Es lebe die Liebe” [“May love last forever”] brings to a close a series of alternating accusations and reconciliations, here supported by vigorous and tasteful orchestral playing.

At the start of the final act Polenzani delivers a memorable account of Belmonte’s final aria, “Ich baue ganz auf Deine Stärke” [“I build totally on the reliance of your strength”]. The use of pianissimo and extended notes, as seen in the performance of earlier arias, achieves a highpoint in the execution of this piece. As the men prepare to abduct Konstanze from the garden, while Pedrillo sings a vocal accompaniment, each character is trapped individually by the Pasha’s servants until the squire himself is caught as the last. The Pasha is at first surprised to learn of this deception at court, then indignant when he realizes that his trust in the alleged architect has been compromised. The duet performed by Wall and Polenzani as they swear to die together in love [“Mit dem/der Geliebten zu sterben”] features a lyrical and dramatic expression of their devotion that naturally follows from their earlier characterizations in this production. The Pasha relents when he admits to Osmin that one cannot force love, and that it is preferable to be remembered for one’s generosity. As all are permitted to leave, the four principals sing together with the chorus in praise of the Pasha’s enlightened rule. His reverie thus comes to a happy and satisfying close.

Salvatore Calomino

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