Mozart's singspiel is set in the 18th century and tells the story of a Spanish lady, Constanze, her English maid Blonde and her servant Pedrillo who are kidnapped by pirates and sold to the Turkish Pasha Selim. Constanze's fiancé, Belmonte, comes to their rescue. I mention these details because in this film it is not at all clear who the three captives are and what they are doing at the Pasha's court. Mozart in German is fine but the problem with a singspiel is that there are acres of German spoken dialogue to be ploughed through and it may be that some of the plot details have been excised in the editing. Stories of western maidens abducted by Arab sheikhs have been popular for hundreds of years; they provide a mixture of exoticism and titillation for a prurient western audience. Offhand I can think of Rossini's L'Italiana in Algeri, and Romberg's operetta The Desert Song that deal with similar subjects.
No-one could accuse Mozart's original of political correctness but this modern-dress production, updated to a vaguely Palestinian location strives to offend no-one. There are interpolations of genuine Arabic music and dancing and the Pasha is so intelligent and sensitive that one queries his motivation in going round kidnapping western women and installing them in his harem. Ultimately Mozart's racist, sexist little comedy loses its punch in striving to be fair to all parties.
The production, from the Salzburg Festival, looks splendid. Particularly worth a mention are Christine Schäfer's spirited performance as Constanze and Franz Hawlata's rounded portrayal of the evil jailer Osmin. This is not Mozart's best work but some of the Act III ensembles give a foretaste of what he was to achieve in Così Fan Tutte.
I have one final quibble: in this production Constanze is a blonde and Blonde is a brunette. Surely the Salzburg Festival budget could have stretched as far as providing a couple of wigs.
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