Die Entführung aus dem Serail is one of my favorite operas, though in truth, this is more due to my familiarity with the music than anything else. Not to say that Mozart is not incredible, but it just happens that I have seen this opera more than any other, and knowing it this well only increases my enjoyment of it. This latest Bavarian State Opera production of Die Entführung was my fifth time seeing the opera, so I had quite a lot of prejudices going in, especially since the production team was the same as the one that was responsible for that hideous staging of Xerxes earlier this month.
Of the production, I can only say that Martin Duncan, the staging producer, and Ultz, the director, either did not understand the strength of Die Entführung's plot or didn’t care because they were too worried about their own “art” and cleverness that is so essential in our postmodern world. Die Entführung is a Singspiel, and includes speaking parts to move the drama along, most notably, Pasha Selim does not sing at all. This production took out these parts by use of a narrator, Fatma Genç, a Turkish German actress. By taking away the characters interaction with words, the drama is seriously compromised, the parts are merely arias and such strung along, sung by puppets. Most absurd was the part of Pasha Selim, naturally, since taking away the speaking parts renders him utterly silent. Worse yet, since the staging was done almost exclusively on six couches that moved back and for on stage, the choreography was not such that the characters could develop in a human way on stage, not even visually.
Just to give an idea of what proceeded, we began with our beloved group of ten men, dressed again in white tee-shirts and grey trousers. They put newspapers on the ground, and carefully placed bowls on stands so they hung off the edge of the stage. They undressed, revealing their diapers underneath, and carefully grabbed the sponges dipped in red paint in the bowls, then violently smeared their diaper covered crotches in red, indicating that they were eunuchs. For the rest of the production they went around placing newspapers on the floor when it would be mussed up by objects being thrown, taking various things off stage, and being moving tables covered with piles of fruit.
There were also soccer fans dressed in Turkish jerseys that wandered across the stage at various points.
As mentioned before, most of the action occurs on six couches that move to and fro across the stage, each a different color of the rainbow, not including indigo. There were dancers on the couches dressed in harem pants, fez-like hats, and bead necklaces that matched their respective couches and cholis that were a peach color. They danced while sitting on the couches during the overture, and the choreography was quite wanting, it looked like they were doing yoga at a frenetic pace and it didn’t at all go with the music. However, the dancers were fairly synchronized, and when they danced on the stage in the finale, they weren’t so bad.
In general, the choreography was extremely childish, in keeping with the rest of the production. The chorus bounced up and down during Singt dem großen Bassa Lieder that greets Pasha Selim during Act I, their hands balled up in little excited fists as well. This choreography, coupled with the lurid and unflattering costumes in orientalist style, made one think of high school musicals. In particular, something must needs be done about the hairstyles, why go through all of the trouble of dressing one’s characters in orientalist regalia, and just leave the hair looking straight out of the 80s? (I would say, straight off the street, but it seems that a certain percentage of German hairstyles are still from 20 years ago.) The costume department needs to use wigs.
Daniel Harding did a fine job with conducting rather passionately. The orchestra sounded just about perfect from what I could tell.
On the other hand, the singing was uneven. Ingrid Kaiserfeld was fairly good as Contanze, her voice sufficiently loud, her control imperfect, but the part is exceedingly difficult. Julia Rempe as Blonde was simply embarrassing. Her voice was tiny, one could barely hear her in that hall, if she were at San Francisco, which is much larger and has bad acoustics, she would have been silent. Sometimes Ms. Rempe got that high A, and one felt happy for her. She also was even quieter when sitting than standing, so the staging compromised her voice. Roberto Saccà was a good Belmonte, but I think the part just cannot be as difficult, since everyone I’ve heard as Belmonte has seemed quite good. Or else I’ve just had luck with tenors in this opera. Kevin Conners was excellent as Pedrillo, his Romance in Act III was beautiful, and one felt he was competing with a lot since there were five glittery fish hanging from the couch he was singing from, and a eunuch was rolling along on his back blowing bubbles, and to top it all off, two acrobats, representing Contanze and Blonde, flung themselves down by ribbons. Paata Burchuladze as Osmin was wanting in diction, but not in range. His endurance was not the best though, the earlier arias of his in Act I were noticeably better than his later ones. The chorus was grand, and the full effect of the loveliness of the choral music was realized in this production.
After the Act I someone screamed “Diese Entführung ist vertreibt!” or something like this. This Abduction has run off? I don’t know what it means exactly, but I believe the person left and was disgruntled.