Die Entführung aus dem Serail
Damrau, Peretyatko; Strehl, Ernst, Selig; Symphony Orchestra and Chorus of the Gran Teatre del Liceu, Bolton. Production: Loy. C Major 709204 (Blu-ray) or 709108 (2 DVDs), 188 mins., subtitled
"Too many notes, Mr. Mozart," said Emperor Joseph II after hearing Die Entführung aus dem Serail for the first time. History has proved the Emperor wrong, but a case might be made that this 2010 Liceu production, directed by Christof Loy, contains too many words. Loy has restored all the original spoken dialogue, which, with the score presented uncut as well, makes this Entführung longer than Aida.
Entführung is a singspiel — a German comedy with spoken dialogue — but it mixes the comic with the serious and contains some of Mozart's most technically demanding vocal writing. The present performance is musically exemplary, starting with Diana Damrau's affecting, sensationally delivered Konstanze, and the entire cast under conductor Ivor Bolton negotiates Mozart's vocal hurdles with aplomb.
Herbert Murauer's sets leave a lot to be desired, and Christof Loy's staging is controversial at best. The sets are virtually nonexistent — minimal backdrops with some contemporary chairs and tables on a bare stage. The costumes are a hodgepodge of centuries and national origins, and they are unflattering to boot.
Loy at least has a concept, stated in the printed material as revealing "ambivalent relationships between the two women and their presumed partners and abductors." Konstanze shows feelings toward the Pasha that include a not-quite-unwilling kiss during "Martern aller Arten." When Osmin falls to the floor in the final ensemble, Blonde rushes to join him and console him there, but the result is laughable in the wrong sense. Damrau's contortions with the Pasha are not quite so ludicrous, but only because this artist is such a great communicator that she can almost — but not quite — convince us that there's a chance she might succumb.
A surprise plus is the three-dimensional impersonation of the Pasha by Christoph Quest, a film actor of considerable renown in Germany. This spoken role is usually a throwaway, but with much more to speak here than is usually allotted, Quest turns his contribution into a major part of the experience, running the gamut of human feelings, with a highly expressive face and body language that speaks volumes.
The glories of this performance, though, are in the singing. Damrau's voice is light but strong, capable of a broad range of color and nuance. She tosses off the fiendishly high flourishes of "Ach ich liebte" and the wild roulades of "Martern aller Arten" with deceptive ease while doing complicated stage business. At the other end of the spectrum, Damrau also has the long-breathed lines to make the anguished "Traurigkeit" heartbreaking.
Her Belmonte, dusky-toned German tenor Christoph Strehl, makes a strong impression vocally with a beautiful evenness of line and sports a hangdog look underlined by a Gatsby-era wardrobe that makes "O wie ängstlich" and "Wenn der Freude Tränen fliessen" highly moving. Later, he gets through the hoops and leaps of "Ich baue ganz" honorably, though not without palpable effort. Too bad Loy favors having his principals sing difficult music while lying on the ground. Strehl gets some of the worst of this.
Franz-Josef Selig's Osmin comes off as a sleazy, lecherous businessman, used to having his own way. He sings his music with an easy range from low D to high F, and he has the ability to differentiate his plush bass sound for dramatic purposes, from his frustration in the duet with Blonde to his malicious glee in the "Triumphieren" aria.
Olga Peretyatko's soprano has a steely quality, with a personality to match, making her Blonde a good foil for Damrau's warm humanity. As Pedrillo, Norbert Ernst has a smaller, less interesting voice than the others, but he holds his own in the musical ensembles and is agile in the often complicated stage business. All concerned benefit from Bolton's crisp but flexible baton work.