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

Prom 9: Fidelio lives by its Florestan

The last time Beethoven’s sole opera, Fidelio, was performed at the Proms, in 2009, Daniel Barenboim was making a somewhat belated London opera debut with his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.

The Merchant of Venice: WNO at Covent Garden

In Out of Africa, her account of her Kenyan life, Karen Blixen relates an anecdote, ‘Farah and The Merchant of Venice’. When Blixen told Farah Aden, her Somali butler, the story of Shakespeare’s play, he was disappointed and surprised by the denouement: surely, he argued, the Jew Shylock could have succeeded in his bond if he had used a red-hot knife? As an African, Farah expected a different narrative, demonstrating that our reception of art depends so much on our assumptions and preconceptions.

Leoncavallo's Zazà at Investec Opera Holland Park

The make-up is slapped on thickly in this new production of Leoncavallo’s Zazà by director Marie Lambert and designer Alyson Cummings at Investec Opera Holland Park.

McVicar’s Enchanting but Caliginous Rigoletto in Castle Olavinlinna at Savonlinna Opera Festival

David McVicar’s thrilling take on Verdi’s Rigoletto premiered as the first international production of this Summer’s Savonlinna Opera Festival. The scouts for the festival made the smart decision to let McVicar adapt his 2001 Covent Garden staging to the unique locale of Castle Olavinlinna.

Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance at Covent Garden

The end of the ROH’s summer season was marked as usual by the Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance but this year’s showcase was a little lacklustre at times.

Sallinen’s Kullervo is Brutal and Spectacular Finnish Opera at Savonlinna Opera Festival

For the centenary of Finland’s Independence, the Savonlinna Opera Festival brought back Kari Heiskanen’s spectacular 1992 production of Aulis Salinen’s Kullervo. The excellent Finnish soloists and glorious choir unflinchingly offered this opera of vocal blood and guts. Conductor Hannu Lintu fired up the Savonlinna Opera Festival Orchestra in Sallinen’s thrilling music.

Kát’a Kabanová at Investec Opera Holland Park

If there was any doubt of the insignificance of mankind in the face of the forces of Nature, then Yannis Thavoris’ design for Olivia Fuchs production of Janáček’s Kát’a Kabanová - first seen at Investec Opera Holland Park in 2009 - would puncture it in a flash, figuratively and literally.

A bel canto feast at Cadogan Hall

The bel canto repertoire requires stylish singing, with beautiful tone and elegant phrasing. Strength must be allied with grace in order to coast the vocal peaks with unflawed legato; flexibility blended with accuracy ensures the most bravura passages are negotiated with apparent ease.

Don Pasquale: a cold-hearted comedy at Glyndebourne

Director Mariame Clément’s Don Pasquale, first seen during the 2011 tour and staged in the house in 2013, treads a fine line between realism and artifice.

Billy Budd Indomitable in Des Moines

It is hard to know where to begin to praise the peerless accomplishment that is Des Moines Metro Opera’s staggeringly powerful Billy Budd.

Tannhäuser at Munich

Romeo Castellucci’s aesthetic — if one may speak in the singular — is very different from almost anything else on show in the opera house at the moment. That, I have no doubt, is unquestionably a good thing. Castellucci is a serious artist and it is all too easy for any of us to become stuck in an artistic rut, congratulating ourselves not only on our understanding but also,  may God help us, our ‘taste’ — as if so trivial a notion had something to do with anything other than ourselves.

Des Moines Answers Turandot’s Riddles

With Turandot, Des Moines Metro Opera operated from the premise of prima la voce, and if the no-holds-barred singing and rhapsodic playing didn’t send shivers down your spine, well, you were at the wrong address.

Maria Visits Des Moines

With an atmospheric, crackling performance of Astor Piazzolla’s Maria de Buenos Aires, Des Moines Metro Opera once again set off creative sparks with its Second Stage concept.

Die schöne Müllerin: Davies and Drake provoke fresh thoughts at Middle Temple Hall

Schubert wrote Die schöne Müllerin (1824) for a tenor (or soprano) range - that of his own voice. Wilhelm Müller’s poems depict the youthful unsophistication of a country lad who, wandering with carefree unworldliness besides a burbling stream, comes upon a watermill, espies the miller’s fetching daughter and promptly falls in love - only to be disillusioned when she spurns him for a virile hunter. So, perhaps the tenor voice possesses the requisite combination of lightness and yearning to convey this trajectory from guileless innocence to disenchantment and dejection.

World Premiere of Aulis Sallinen’s Castle in the Water Savonlinna Opera Festival

For my first trip to Finland, I flew from Helsinki to the east, close to the border of Russia near St. Petersburg over many of Suomi’s thousand lakes, where the summer getaway Savonlinna lays. Right after the solstice during July and early August, the town’s opera festival offers high quality productions. In this enchanting locale in the midst of peaceful nature, the sky at dusk after the mesmerising sunset fades away is worth the trip alone!

Mozart and Stravinsky in Aix

Bathed in Mediterranean light, basking in enlightenment Aix found two famous classical works, Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress in its famous festival’s open air Théâtre de l’Archevêche. But were we enlightened?

Des Moines: Nothing ‘Little’ About Night Music

Des Moines Metro Opera’s richly detailed production of Sondheim’s A Little Night Music left an appreciative audience to waltz home on air, and has prompted this viewer to search for adequate superlatives.

Longborough Festival Opera: A World Class Tristan und Isolde in a Barn Shed

Of all the places, I did not expect a sublime Tristan und Isolde in a repurposed barn in the Cotswolds. Don’t be fooled by Longborough’s stage without lavish red curtains to open and close each act. Any opera house would envy the riveting chemistry between Peter Wedd and Lee Bisset in this intimate, 500 seat setting. Conductor Anthony Negus proved himself a master at Wagner’s emotional depth. Epic drama in minimalistic elegance: who needs a big budget when you have talent and drama this passionate?

The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra throws a glossy Bernstein party

For almost thirty years, summer at the Concertgebouw has been synonymous with Robeco SummerNights. This popular series expands the classical concert formula with pop, film music, jazz and more, served straight up or mixed together. Composer Leonard Bernstein’s versatility makes his oeuvre, ranging from Broadway to opera, prime SummerNight fare.

Die Frau ohne Schatten at Munich

It was fascinating to see — and of course, to hear — Krzysztof Warlikowsi’s productions of Die Gezeichneten and Die Frau ohne Schatten on consecutive nights of this year’s Munich Opera Festival.

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):