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W. A. Mozart: Die Entführung aus dem Serail
22 Jul 2009

Mozart: Die Entführung aus dem Serail

The strategies of non-traditional opera directors are becoming as predictable and formulaic as the stuffy, static traditional productions that they work so hard not to emulate.

W. A. Mozart: Die Entführung aus dem Serail

Konstanze: Laura Aikin; Belmonte: Edgaras Montvidas; Osmin: Kurt Rydl; Blonde: Mojca Erdmann;Pedrillo: Michael Smallwood; Bassa Selim: Steven Van Watermeulen. Chorus of De Nederlandse Opera. The Netherlands Chamber Orchestra. Constantinos Carydis, conductor. Johan Simons, stage director.

Opus Arte OA1003D [2DVDs]

$34.98  Click to buy

Modern dress, department store-window set design, causally explicit sex and/or violence - these are the equivalents to an old-fashioned staging’s overly plush costumes, painted backdrops and formulaic stage posturing. In that regard, this Nederlands Opera Die Entführung aus dem Serail, filmed live in February 2008, is a traditionally non-traditional version of Mozart’s early masterpiece. Working with costume designer Nina von Mechow and set designer Bert Neumann, director Johan Simons strives so hard for freshness and boldness that the viewer is exhausted by the effort expended rather than charmed and moved by the opera itself.

The sets provide no sense of the Pasha Selim’s residence as a place of confinement. A curtain of gold spangles glitters behind a platform, with huge blow-ups of harem-related paintings to either side. Modern furniture matches the modern dress of every character except Kurt Rydl’s Osmin, who gets to look comfortable in loose fabrics, vaguely Turkish. A bonus feature supplies the insight that the set is designed to resemble some sort of theater (in the very opening, two auditorium seats in red fabric are all we see before the curtain). What deeper insight into the opera this “all the world’s a stage” angle supplies evaded your reviewer.

Although director Johan Simons, in the bonus interviews, says all the right things about allegiance to the text and Mozart’s music, what he actually puts on stage seems more about using text and music as a starting point for displaying his own inventiveness. The action becomes frantic and pretentious, unfortunately, instead of mirthful or affecting.

The fatal weakness of the production is a Pasha Selim without a dangerous sex appeal. Steven Van Watermeulen follows the director’s dictates, apparently, and the resulting goofiness saps the drama and emotion from the character’s change of heart at the finale.

Goua Robert Grovugui, a handsome black youth in jeans and t-shirt, plays a mute role, following Selim’s orders, and giving the director the opportunity to have something to do during Belmonte and Constanze’s final duet. As they sing, the youth circles them, clasps the singer’s hands together, listens to their heartbeats, places Aiken’s hand on his head…What is the young man looking for? How do his actions reflect on Belmonte and Constanza’s situation (they expect to be executed soon)? All these questions draw attention to the young man, and by extension to the director as well - as attention is drawn away from the characters.

Fortunately, the musical side of things is more impressive. Laura Aikin’s Constanze, while looking somewhat mature, maintains her dignity. The music pushes her up into her top range, which is secure though sharp-edged. Edgaras Montvidas as Belmonte is youthful, attractive, and his pleasant voice meets the role’s demands well. He just needs a bit more personality to make a greater impression. Mojca Erdmann embodies the sexy, sassy Blonde very well, giving Michael Smallwood’s carefree Pedrillo an energetic counterpart. Kurt Rydl, as expected, steals the show as Osmin, both with his well-preserved bass voice and his comic skills.

Conductor Constantinos Carydis and the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra support the singers with rhythmic precision and plenty of color.

Opus Arte spreads the opera onto two discs (with a break midway through act two), filling the second disc with interviews mixed with rehearsal footage. If not fascinating, at least these short clips don’t mirror the pedantic approach of Klaus Bertish’s academic windiness in the booklet essay.

Your reviewer would still go back to the decades old production with Karl Bohm conducting Francisco Araiza and Edita Gruberova. The classy yet simple production lets the music-making, of a very high level, tell the story. Director Simons doesn’t betray the opera; he simply doesn’t seem to trust it. A lot of effort for too little effect makes this a DVD difficult to recommend.

Chris Mullins


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