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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.
Die Entfuhrung Aus Dem Serail is not Mozart's best opera, at least to
me, the story is engaging enough but it doesn't always know which
direction it wants to go, whether it wants to be comedic or serious for
example. However it is interesting as an opera, the characters are
memorable especially Osmin and Marten Aller Arlen and Ha Wie Will Ich
Triumphieren among Mozart's best arias.
I don't consider this Entfuhrung the best, the Glyndebourne production with Willard White and Valerie Masterson is hard to beat, but the 1980 performance with Gruberova, Araiza and Talvela comes close. Anybody looking for a traditional production may want to look elsewhere, anyone for something different may enjoy it. Just for the record I did enjoy it, and I bought the barbed-wire, gun-toting thugs concept, though I do understand why some mayn't.
The Mozartean Orchestra play wonderfully with effortless style, and the whole score is conducted with exuberance. The dialogue is well-pronounced and moves at a swift pace in general, and even provides a number of laughs with Osmin. The costumes and sets are appealing enough, and the sound, camera work and picture quality are very good.
As are the performances. Paul Groves is the only one who struggles with some of the German pronunciation in the dialogue, but sings very sweetly and stylistically. Malin Hartelius is a very credible Blonde while rebuking Osmin's courting, and there is a very heroic-sounding Pedrillo and well-performed Pasha Selim.
Franz Hawlata may lack a little bit of resonance on some of the basso notes(ie. the low D in Ha Wie Will Ich Triumphieren, though if there is consolation not many Osmins completely excel at that note) but he is still excellent as Osmin, not just with his firm voice but he is great in his acting. He is suitably ominous in parts, but he particularly shines when he is in comedic mode such as the Wine Drinking scene which is genuinely funny without falling into overkill or farce.
Christine Schaefer is outstanding as Konstanze. It is a fiendishly difficult role, perhaps the most difficult of the Mozart soprano roles, but Schaefer sings and acts Konstanze so well, she makes it seem easy with her shining colouratura, technique and ability to sing in the lower register and do a big jump to high. Her acting is suitably restrained and poignant. Marten Aller Arten is wonderful, not just vocally but the idea to have on-stage soloists proved a good one.
All in all, interesting. 8/10 Bethany Cox
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