In Review > International

Die Entführung aus dem Serail

PARIS
Opéra National de Paris
10/24/14

In Review Entfuhrung hdl 1115
Vaudeville humor: Die Entführung aus dem Serail returns to the Paris Opera
© Agathe Poupeney/Opéra National de Paris 2015

Die Entführung aus dem Serail made its long-overdue return to the Palais Garnier in a new production by actress and filmmaker Zabou Breitman, conducted by the company’s music director, Philippe Jordan. Mozart’s opera had not been seen at the Paris Opera since 1984.

A superbly played overture opened with images from silent cinema, evoking the Orientalist pastiche that was to be the key to Breitman’s approach to the opera, conceived in close collaboration with her designer, the late Jean-Marc Stehlé. Mozart’s singspiel is more Turkish delight than a genuine recreation of the Orient, justifying this colorful “colonial” take on the work. 

This was Breitman’s first opera production, and to echo Emperor Joseph II’s criticism of the opera as having “too many notes,” here there were too many gags. Belly dancers, however talented, are no solution to the long introduction of “Martern aller Arten,” and the amusing touches of domestic harem life were not always pertinent. A deeper, more imaginative response is called for when the score transcends its inherent vaudeville humor. The extended Act II quartet, the emotional heart of the opera, found the singers stranded without any clear motivation or visual support. The production’s best moment was the releasing of a caged barn owl to represent the freedom from captivity of the girls, who set off to resume their lives in their smart 1920s-style costumes. 

The performance on October 24 would have been more successful had the singing been more compelling. Erin Morley was Konstanze. This fine soprano displayed admirably precise singing above the staff and fluent coloratura, but her insubstantial mid-range tone and insipid chest register robbed the character of her defiant heroism. Morley’s Konstanze was a Blondchen vocalizing above her weight, providing little contrast with Anna Prohaska’s pert chambermaid, whose altissimo was also impressively secure. Her vis-à-vis was the lively Pedrillo of tenor Paul Schweinester, who lacked sufficient metal for his aria. There was not much tenor joy from the handsome Belmonte of Bernard Richter, who, despite a brave attempt at “Ich baue ganz,” sounded technically challenged by the role, alternating attractive phrases with throaty outbursts. 

Osmin requires a glorious basso-profundo lower range that Mozart exploited to full comic effect. Lars Woldt had bags of character and contributed some fine singing, but unfortunately his lowest notes were virtually inaudible. Jürgen Maurer, in the spoken role of Pasha Selim, provided one of the unambiguously successful performances of the evening.

Jordan’s very complete version of the score was played with a magical glow and detail. This was a performance in the Viennese tradition of Josef Krips and Karl Böhm; those now accustomed to light authentic performance practices in this repertoire were perhaps surprised, or even shocked, by the warmth and weight of Jordan’s performance. The only reproach that could be made of the maestro is his restrained sense of fun, which did not always match the stage director’s lighthearted approach to the drama. spacer 

STEPHEN J. MUDGE

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