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

London Handel Festival: Handel's Faramondo at the RCM

Written at a time when both his theatrical business and physical health were in a bad way, Handel’s Faramondo was premiered at the King’s Theatre in January 1738, fared badly and sank rapidly into obscurity where it languished until the late-twentieth century.

Brahms A German Requiem, Fabio Luisi, Barbican London

Fabio Luisi conducted the London Symphony Orchestra in Brahms A German Requiem op 45 and Schubert, Symphony no 8 in B minor D759 ("Unfinished").at the Barbican Hall, London.

Káťa Kabanová in its Seattle début

The atmosphere was a bit electric on February 25 for the opening night of Leoš Janàček’s 1921 domestic tragedy, and not entirely in a good way.

Festival Mémoires in Lyon

Each March France's splendid Opéra de Lyon mounts a cycle of operas that speak to a chosen theme. Just now the theme is Mémoires -- mythic productions of famed, now dead, late 20th century stage directors. These directors are Klaus Michael Grüber (1941-2008), Ruth Berghaus (1927-1996), and Heiner Müller (1929-1995).

Christoph Prégardien and Julius Drake at the Wigmore Hall

The latest instalment of Wigmore Hall’s ambitious two-year project, ‘Schubert: The Complete Songs’, was presented by German tenor Christoph Prégardien and pianist Julius Drake.

La Tragédie de Carmen at San Diego

On March 10, 2017, San Diego Opera presented an unusual version of Georges Bizet’s Carmen called La Tragédie de Carmen (The Tragedy of Carmen).

Kasper Holten's farewell production at the ROH: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

For his farewell production as director of opera at the Royal Opera House, Kasper Holten has chosen Wagner’s only ‘comedy’, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg: an opera about the very medium in which it is written.

AZ Musicfest Presents Mendelssohn's Italian Symphony and Leoncavallo's Pagliacci

The dramatic strength that Stage Director Michael Scarola drew from his Pagliacci cast was absolutely amazing. He gave us a sizzling rendition of the libretto, pointing out every bit of foreshadowing built into the plot.

Premiere: Riders of the Purple Sage

On February 25, 2017, in Tucson and on the following March 3 in Phoenix, Arizona Opera presented its first world premiere, Craig Bohmler and Steven Mark Kohn’s Riders of the Purple Sage.

English Touring Opera Spring 2017: a disappointing Tosca

During the past few seasons, English Touring Opera has confirmed its triple-value: it takes opera to the parts of the UK that other companies frequently fail to reach; its inventive, often theme-based, programming and willingness to take risks shine a light on unfamiliar repertory which invariably offers unanticipated pleasures; the company provides a platform for young British singers who are easing their way into the ‘industry’, assuming a role that latterly ENO might have been expected to fulfil.

Matthias Goerne : Mahler Eisler Wigmore Hall

A song cycle within a song symphony - Matthias Goerne's intriuging approach to Mahler song, with Marcus Hinterhäuser, at the Wigmore Hall, London. Mahler's entire output can be described as one vast symphony, spanning an arc that stretches from his earliest songs to the sketches for what would have been his tenth symphony. Song was integral to Mahler's compositional process, germinating ideas that could be used even in symphonies which don't employ conventional singing.

A Merry Falstaff in San Diego

On February 21, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s last composition, Falstaff, at the Civic Theater. Although this was the second performance in the run and the 21st was a Tuesday, there were no empty seats to be seen. General Director David Bennett assembled a stellar international cast that included baritone Roberto de Candia in the title role and mezzo-soprano Marianne Cornetti singing her first Mistress Quickly.

New Production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute at Lyric Opera, Chicago

In Neil Armfield’s new production of Die Zauberflöte at Lyric Opera of Chicago the work is performed as entertainment on a summer’s night staged by neighborhood children in a suburban setting. The action takes place in the backyard of a traditional house, talented performers collaborate with neighborhood denizens, and the concept of an onstage audience watching this play yields a fresh perspective on staging Mozart’s opera.

A Salome to Remember

Patricia Racette’s Salome is an impetuous teenage princess who interrupts the royal routine on a cloudy night by demanding to see her stepfather’s famous prisoner. Racette’s interpretation makes her Salome younger than the characters portrayed by many of her famous colleagues of the past. This princess plays mental games with Jochanaan and with Herod. Later, she plays a physical game with the gruesome, natural-looking head of the prophet.

L’Elisir d’Amore Goes On Despite Storm

On February 17, 2017 Pacific Opera Project performed Gaetano Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore at the Ebell Club in Los Angeles. After that night, it can be said that neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night can stay this company from putting on a fine show. Earlier in the day the Los Angeles area was deluged with heavy rain that dropped up to an inch of water per hour. That evening, because of a blown transformer, there was no electricity in the Ebell Club area.

Boris Godunov in Marseille

There has been much reconstruction of Marseille’s magnificent Opera Municipal since it opened in 1787. Most recently a huge fire in 1919 provoked a major, five-year renovation of the hall and stage that reopened in 1924.

Bartoli a dream Cenerentola in Amsterdam

With her irresistible cocktail of spontaneity and virtuosity, Cecilia Bartoli is a beloved favourite of Amsterdam audiences. In triple celebratory mode, the Italian mezzo-soprano chose Rossini’s La Cenerentola, whose bicentenary is this year, to mark twenty years of performing at the Concertgebouw, and her twenty-fifth performance at its Main Hall.

Winterreise : a parallel journey

Matthew Rose and Gary Matthewman Winterreise: a Parallel Journey at the Wigmore Hall, a recital with extras. Schubert's winter journey reflects the poetry of Wilhelm Müller, where images act as signposts mapping the protagonist's psychological journey.

Anna Bolena in Lisbon

Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, composed in 1830, didn’t make it to Lisbon until 1843 when there were 14 performances at its magnificent Teatro São Carlos (opened 1793), and there were 17 more performances spread over the next two decades. The entire twentieth century saw but three (3) performances in this European capital.

Oh, What a Night in San Jose

It is difficult to know where to begin to praise the stunning achievement of Opera San Jose’s West Coast premiere of Silent Night.

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):