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Die Entführung aus dem Serail

Glyndebourne Festival Opera

In Review Glyndebourne Entfuhrung lg 915
Passion at Glyndebourne: Saurel and Matthews in Entführung
© Richard Hubert Smith

MOZART’S SINGSPIEL Die Entführung aus dem Serail had not been sung at the Glyndebourne Festival for more than twenty-five years before this season’s new production opened on June 13.  The gap is surely not an indication that the work lacks popularity; its absence represents perhaps a certain queasiness within contemporary Western sensibilities about a piece that seems to pit the values of Christians so directly against those of Muslims. Such uncertainty, though, seems entirely unnecessary — particularly given that the supreme gesture of generosity with which the piece closes is the work of a convert to Islam. (Pasha Selim is twice referred to as a renegade in the spoken text.) 

Director David McVicar created the new production for the Glyndebourne Festival in collaboration with designer Vicki Mortimer. Opening up the dialogue to its fullest extent — how many stagings of this opera include the small speaking role of the sea captain Klaas, played here by Jonas Cradock? — McVicar explored the piece’s obsession with culture-clash. The production presented the Islamic side of its visuals as things of outstanding beauty in Mortimer’s immaculately realized interior and exterior views of an eighteenth-century Turkish palace. The show looked simply wonderful.

It often sounded wonderful, too, with a cast containing no weak links and one notable standout. There was some marvelous playing from the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment under the festival’s music director, Robin Ticciati, who once again demonstrated the Mozartean credentials one needs to be able to flaunt in his position.

The standout of the cast was German bass Tobias Kehrer, who had all the notes for the part of Osmin, including the most outlandish ones, and whose rage, grand as it was, never overstepped the appointed boundaries of Mozart’s music. He acted with skill and presence, too. Edgaras Montvidas’s interpretation of Belmonte was also lifted out of the top Mozartean drawer, handsomely sung and lyrically acted — or was it the other way around? By his side, Brenden Gunnell made a vital live-wire of a Pedrillo.

The female singers were almost as good, although Sally Matthews’s soprano was not in its cleanest or neatest form on the first night, while the part of Konstanze — with its preposterous expectations rising to a conjoined climax with the two arias “Traurigkeit” and “Martern aller Arten” in quick succession in Act II — took her right to her technical limits. (This double aria is something Christian Friedrich Bretzner — the writer of the original libretto adapted for Mozart’s use by Johann Gottlieb Stephanie the Younger — had managed to avoid.) Matthews was effectively shadowed by Mari Eriksmoen’s Blonde, who sang skillfully and acted valiantly, easily quelling Osmin’s depradations as required.   

The crucial speaking role of Pasha Selim was played by Frenchman Franck Saurel, a former member of the avant-garde Parisian ensemble Théâtre du Soleil, whose slight physique scarcely hinted at the dominating presence usually promoted in the part; Saurel was entirely subtler and more appealing, offering a view of Selim as a man of culture and civilization whose values — challenged by Konstanze’s rejection of him — were never wholly undermined. —George Hall

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