Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Garsington Opera transfers Falstaff from Elizabeth pomp to Edwardian pompousness

Bruno Ravella’s new production of Verdi's Falstaff for Garsington Opera eschews Elizabethan pomp in favour of Edwardian pompousness, and in so doing places incipient, insurgent feminism and the eternal class consciousness of fin de siècle English polite society centre stage.

Grange Park Opera travels to America

The Italian censors forced Giuseppe Verdi and his librettist Antonio Somma to relocate their operatic drama of the murder of the Swedish King Gustav III to Boston, demote the monarch to state governor and rename him Riccardo, and for their production of Un ballo in maschera at Grange Park Opera, director Stephen Medcalf and designer Jamie Vartan have left the ‘ruler’ in his censorial exile.

Puccini’s La bohème at The Royal Opera House

When I reviewed Covent Garden’s Tosca back in January, I came very close to suggesting that we might be entering a period of crisis in casting the great Puccini operas. Fast forward six months, and what a world of difference!

Na’ama Zisser's Mamzer Bastard (world premiere)

Let me begin, like an undergraduate unsure quite what to say at the beginning of an essay: there were many reasons to admire the first performance of Na’ama Zisser’s opera, Mamzer Bastard, a co-commission from the Royal Opera and the Guildhall.

Les Arts Florissants : An English Garden, Barbican London

At the Barbican, London, Les Arts Florissants conducted by Paul Agnew, with soloists of Le Jardin de Voix in "An English Garden" a semi-staged programme of English baroque.

Die Walküre in San Francisco

The hero Siegfried in utero, Siegmund dead, Wotan humiliated, Brünnhilde asleep, San Francisco’s Ring ripped relentlessly into the shredded emotional lives of its gods and mortals. Conductor Donald Runnicles laid bare Richard Wagner’s score in its most heroic and in its most personal revelations, in their intimacy and in their exploding release.

Das Rheingold in San Francisco

Alberich’s ring forged, the gods moved into Valhalla, Loge’s Bic flicked, Wagner’s cumbersome nineteenth century mythology began unfolding last night here in Bayreuth-by-the-Bay.

ENO's Acis and Galatea at Lilian Baylis House

The shepherds and nymphs are at play! It’s end-of-the-year office-party time in Elysium. The bean-bags, balloons and banners - ‘Work Hard, Play Harder’ - invite the weary workers of Mountain Media to let their hair down, and enter the ‘Groves of Delights and Crystal Fountains’.

Lohengrin at the Royal Opera House

Since returning to London in January, I have been heartened by much of what I have seen - and indeed heard - from the Royal Opera.

Stéphane Degout and Simon Lepper

Another wonderful Wigmore song recital: this time from Stéphane Degout – recently shining in George Benjamin's new operatic masterpiece,

An excellent La finta semplice from Classical Opera

‘How beautiful it is to love! But even more beautiful is freedom!’ The opening lines of the libretto of Mozart’s La finta semplice are as contradictory as the unfolding tale is ridiculous. Either that master of comedy, Carlo Goldoni, was having an off-day when he penned the text - which was performed during the Carnival of 1764 in the Teatro Giustiniani di S. Moisè in Venice with music by Salvatore Perillo - or Marco Coltellini, the poeta cesareo who was entertaining the Viennese aristocracy in 1768, took unfortunate liberties with poetry and plot.

Whatever Love Is: The Prince Consort at Wigmore Hall

‘We love singing songs, telling stories …’ profess The Prince Consort on their website, and this carefully curated programme at Wigmore Hall perfectly embodied this passion, as Artistic Director and pianist Alisdair Hogarth was joined by tenor Andrew Staples (the Consort’s Creative Director), Verity Wingate (soprano) and poet Laura Mucha to reflect on ‘whatever love is’.

Bryn Terfel's magnetic Mephisto in Amsterdam

It had been a while since Bryn Terfel sang a complete opera role in Amsterdam. Back in 2002 his larger-than-life Doctor Dulcamara hijacked the stage of what was then De Nederlandse Opera, now Dutch National Opera.

A volcanic Elektra by the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic

“There are no gods in heaven!” sings Elektra just before her brother Orest kills their mother. In the Greek plays about the cursed House of Atreus the Olympian gods command the banished Orestes to return home and avenge his father Agamemnon’s murder at the hands of his wife Clytemnestra. He dispatches both her and her lover Aegisthus.

A culinary coupling from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama

What a treat the London Music Conservatoires serve up for opera-goers each season. After the Royal Academy’s Bizet double-bill of Le docteur Miracle and La tragédie de Carmen, and in advance of the Royal College’s forthcoming pairing of Huw Watkins’ new opera, In the Locked Room, based on a short story by Thomas Hardy, and The Lighthouse by Peter Maxwell Davies, the Guildhall School of Music and Drama have delivered a culinary coupling of Paul Hindemith’s The Long Christmas Dinner and Sir Lennox Berkeley’s The Dinner Engagement which the Conservatoire last presented for our delectation in November 2006.

Così fan tutte: Opera Holland Park

Absence makes the heart grow fonder; or does it? In Così fan tutte, who knows? Or rather, what could such a question even mean?

The poignancy of triviality: Garsington Opera's Capriccio

“Wort oder Ton?” asks Richard Strauss’s final opera, Capriccio. The Countess answers with a question of her own, at the close of this self-consciously self-reflective Konversationstück für Musik: “Gibt es einen, der nicht trivail ist?” (“Is there any ending that isn’t trivial?”)

Netia Jones' new Die Zauberflöte opens Garsington Opera's 2018 season

“These portals, these columns prove/that wisdom, industry and art reside here.” So says Tamino, as he gazes up at the three imposing doors in the centre of Netia Jones’ replica of the 18th-century Wormsley Park House - in the grounds of which Garsington Opera’s ‘floating’ Pavilion makes its home each summer.

Feverish love at Opera Holland Park: a fine La traviata opens the 2018 season

If there were any doubts that it was soon to be curtains for Verdi’s titular, tubercular heroine then the tortured gasps of laboured, languishing breath which preceded Rodula Gaitanou’s new production of La traviata for Opera Holland Park would have swiftly served to dispel them.

Iestyn Davies and Fretwork bring about a meeting of the baroque and the modern

‘Music for a while/Shall all your cares beguile’. Standing in shadow, encircled by the five players of the viol consort Fretwork, as the summer storm raged outside Milton Court Concert Hall countertenor Iestyn Davies offered mesmeric reassurance to the capacity audience during this intriguing meeting of the baroque and the modern.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Elizabeth Zharoff as Konstanze, with Peter Dolder as Pasha Selim and Antonio Lozano as Belmonte [Photo by Kelly & Massa Photography courtesy of Opera Company of Philadelphia]
06 Mar 2012

Abduction from the Seraglio, Philadelphia

Abduction from the Seraglio contains not a single ironic or cynical moment. Enlightened mercy and sincere love triumph totally over revenge, slavery and tyranny.

W. A. Mozart: Abduction from the Seraglio

Click here for cast and other production information.

Above: Elizabeth Zharoff as Konstanze, with Peter Dolder as Pasha Selim and Antonio Lozano as Belmonte

Photos by Kelly & Massa Photography courtesy of Opera Company of Philadelphia

 

Despite its robust comedy, technical difficulty, and occasional exoticism, Mozart’s music is youthfully transparent. His fresh score transforms eternal stereotypes—two noble lovers, a spunky English maid with her enthusiastic if naïve boyfriend, and the crude barbarian overseer who would thwart them—into uniquely memorable individuals whose feelings we seem to intuit directly.

This emotional honesty poses a challenge for theater directors, whose attitude toward this work has changed several times in my experience. Until well into the second half of the 20th century (and in provincial performances still), Abduction was presented as a robustly German comic romp. Several generations ago, Giorgio Strehler and others sought to elevate such productions by stripping away tired slapstick routines to reveal the full range and depth of underlying humanist sentiments. Over time, however, most such productions came to focus excessively a stylized dilemma facing Konstanze whether to love Bassa Selim or Belmonte—despite the lack of any textual or musical support for an inner conflict. Over the past decade, the opera has gained new notoriety as the object of Regietheater excess. In search of an underlying social message, Calixto Bieito famously set it as a dystopic story about human trafficking, featuring masturbation, oral sex, urination, and much violence. In a much discussed scene, Osmin hacks up a whore and offers her bloody, severed nipples to Konstanze—an interpretation widely criticized for violating the spirit of Mozart’s music.

Philadelphia’s new production (shared with Treviso) faces the Abduction challenge with a new and intriguing conceit. It resurrects the notion of a “rescue opera”—a popular 18th formula, of which this opera is an example, whereby noble Europeans are saved from oppression and bondage—and seeks to update it with stock characters, styles and settings from silent movies. The Seraglio becomes Constantinople in 1918 (the supertitles anachronistically call it Istanbul), Bassa Selim becomes Ataturk, and Konstanze becomes a British spy seeking to pry secrets from the Turks during World War I. It suggests a fresh set of images, drawn from an era with which a modern audience can better identify, yet also in which individuality, femininity, and the relationship between East and West were being redefined in interesting ways. A promising premise…

Abduction_Phil_03.gifAntonio Lozano as Belmonte, Elizabeth Zharoff as Konstanze, Elizabeth Reiter as Blonde and Krystian Adam as Pedrillo

Yet the production only skims the surface of the concept, with tame results. By the end of the overture, the spy story disappears (just as well, since Konstanze is no spy). At times the background features a silent movie, but this is applied randomly, rather than being exploited consistently to underscore the action. Surely it would not have been hard to find engaging parallels: Belmonte and Konstanze, as well as Pedrillo and Blonde, do resemble the virtuous couples who inhabit silent films, while Osmin does recall villains like Chaplin’s “Big Eric.” Yet the projections provide little more than local color: generic scenes and, at the end, just a quarter hour shot of an old postcard of Hagia Sofia. Beyond the backdrop, the production is remarkably old-fashioned, even provincial, with overheavy reliance on crude gags, garish costumes, and harem girls. A quarter of an hour in, watching Osmin, clad in bright yellow, chasing Pedrillo with a whip, one acknowledges it will be a long afternoon.

Still, a major advantage of the unconventional “movie screen” set design is its theatrical and acoustical intimacy—a plus in this intimate work. It pushes action to the front of the stage, where two ramps permit the singers to cross through the first row of the audience. Thus the burden rests on the singers to carry the show. Yet here, too, the performance gets stuck half-way. Today there is no shortage of great Baroque and Mozart singers, yet one rarely encounters a major house cast as uneven as this one.

Abduction_Phil_04.gifKrystian Adam is Pedrillo with Per Bach Nissen as Osmin

Young soprano and Curtis student Elizabeth Zharoff possesses a warm, even, and well-placed voice, solid coloratura technique, and considerable innate musicality that could take her far in the opera world—and she looks good on stage. Yet Konstanze is a bit of a stretch. In her mid-20s, Zharoff does not quite yet possess the weight and vocal glamor for showpieces like “Martern aller Arten” or “Ach ich liebte” in a big house. She would be more appropriately cast as Pamina, which she will sing next year in Philadelphia.

Never before have I heard a Belmonte who sounds more comfortable in “Ich baue ganz”—the Act III aria often ducked by even the best tenors due to its daunting technical difficulties—than in the two more famous arias of Act I. Spanish Tenor Antonio Lozano brings many things to the role—a voice of reasonable size, clean passagework, and an ardent manner—but not what the role of Belmonte requires above all else, namely noble phrasing and smoothly elegant vocal production. Uneven color and intonation, as well as Spanish-accented German that seems not that of a speaker (let alone native speaker) of the language, weigh him down musically and theatrically.

Polish tenor Krystian Adam sings and acts superbly in the character role of Pedrillo. The young Curtis grad (now in Frankfurt) Elizabeth Reiter is, as her previous work with Philadelphia has shown, a splendid singer on her way up. She sings with a full tone, compelling phrasing, and precise intonation. Yet she seems vocally uncomfortable as Blöndchen, a role Mozart crafted especially for a soubrette with unusually free high notes. Singers with the dark bass voice for Osmin are an endangered species. Nissen sings Osmin at a solid European provincial level, but lacks a booming low D or any other special attribute for the role, though his diction is the best in the show.

Music director Corrado Rovaris conducts crisply, in a style aimed somewhere between the modern and period, and only occasionally let the ensemble slip. Yet the result is neither idiosyncratic nor idiomatic. One waits in vain for the rubato or graceful turn of phrase that would breathe life into this wonderful score.

Andrew Moravcsik

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):