Mozart's Die Entführung aus dem Serail opened last night at San Francisco Opera, with Peter Schneider conducting, and a whole gaggle of singers, and one actor, from the Germanic realms.
The production seemed to not have confidence in either Mozart's music to enchant or the audience's ability to attend to this music, and the beautiful opening overture was marred by Belmonte coming out onstage and disrobing with the assistance of two servants, and changing into other attire. Other examples of this lack of confidence was seen in the five lines of English given to Blonde, one of which was "Here I am, an Englisher, speaking German to a Turk." These interspersed lines delighted the audience in a certain way, but they were distracting. There was also a ridiculous use of a cut out moon during Belmont's aria Wenn der Freude Tränen fliessen in Act II, in which the moon was lowered all the way down, and Konstanze leaned against it as she was listening.
However, the singers all had pleasing voices. Paul Groves was the best tenor I've heard at SF Opera all season, and he sparkled as Belmonte. His voice had good volume and was sweetly supple. His spoken German stood out as non-native compared to the others though. Regina Schörg as Kontanze, on the other hand, had being Viennese to her advantage. Her voice was a pretty one, though at times it was strained and slightly brittle. Schörg did well in her back-to-back arias in Act II (Welcher Wechsel herrscht in meiner Seele and Martern aller Arten), she held back a little in the first one, but the second was simply beautiful.
Peter Bronder (Pedrillo), Jennifer Welch-Babidge (Blonde), and Michael Eder (Osmin) all were adequate in their parts. Welch-Babidge has a bird-like voice that was suited for Blonde. Eder's voice was just didn't quite carry perfectly, just a touch quiet, and he didn't quite get his low notes. Frank Hoffman was a fine Pasha Selim, a speaking part, and they were able to integrate the speaking and singing parts just so, never leaving one horribly confused on why this part is only spoken.
The staging was fairly good. The palace was a cross between a dollhouse and a wedding cake, which was cute, but the peach color added to a cultivated falseness of the set. The outer wall used in Act I was too dark of a mahogany for the lightness of the palace, the colors were not harmonious. The floor was done wonderfully though, blue tile with a vine pattern. The outer screen they used was painted showing the setting from afar, the sea with ships and the land with palace. It looked a bit like a tapestry with hues reminiscent of Chagall.
The choreography was artificial, lots of spinning and dancerly movements. Unfortunately the singers, save for Welch-Babidge, were not good enough dancers to carry this off well. Schörg looked uncomfortable wearing sandals in Act II, as if she didn't know she had feet before. Bronder shuffled and skipped like a young bird who couldn't stay still. However, Eder had a certain gravity of movement that was particularly good when he was praying. Just with slight but very graceful motions he was able to silence everyone.
The costumes were quite pretty, as usual. One would think that if they could get the costumes in harmonious hues, that they could make the set match.