Rhythmic Vitality and Artistic Licence in Garsington’s Entführung

United KingdomUnited Kingdom  Mozart, Die Entführung aus dem Serail:  Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of Garsington Opera/William Lacey (conductor), Wormsley, 9.6.2013 (RJF)

Belmonte: Norman Reinhardt
Konstanze: Rebecca Nelsen
Pedrillo: Mark Wilde
Blonde: Susanna Andersson
Osmin: Matthew Rose
Vassa Selim: Aaron Neil

Director: Daniel Slater
Designer: Francis O’Connor
Lighting Design: Rick Fischer

Matthew Rose-Osmin-Susanna Andersson Blonde Garsington-Opera Chorus in Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail Garsington Opera 2013 credit:Johan Persson
Matthew Rose-Osmin-Susanna Andersson Blonde Garsington-Opera Chorus in Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail Garsington Opera 2013 credit:Johan Persson

As in 2012 the season opened with Mozart – this year in the form of his penultimate singspiel Die Entführung aus dem Serail K382. Its composition arose from Mozart’s great disappointment at the failure of his Zaide to find a theatre and impresario to stage the work. However, Gottlieb Stephanie, Stage Director at the Burgtheater had been impressed with Zaide and promised Mozart a new libretto that would be even more congenial to him whilst also being on the Turkish theme so popular at the time. Mozart was greatly taken by the libretto and composed with enthusiasm. In the work Mozart does not eschew formal musical forms in pursuit of simplicity, not hesitating to include elaborate arias and complex textures in the orchestra. The new Turkish opera was Die Entführung, which was premiered on 16th July 1782. It was an early outstanding success for the young composer. Its music is full of invention and vitality as well as considerable vocal challenge for the heroine. During the composition Mozart became engaged to Constance, the third of the for Weber girls and, in respect for his fiancée, moved out of their house. They married on August 4th 1782.

First among equals on the musical and sung front must be mentioned the conductor, William Lacey. Under his direction the orchestra do full justice to the score’s rhythmic vitality as well as bringing out its character and supporting his singers in an exemplary manner. The demanding role of Konstanze, the woman who infatuates Pasha Selim, was acted and sung with some distinction by American soprano Rebecca Nelsen. She portrays a feisty lady who one minute gives Selim a hug and then slapps his face when he reciprocates. Infamous for its vocal demands, particularly Marten aller Arten, unaccountably moved to Act Three, she has to suffer Osmins brutal attentions at the same time, including having her head ducked under water!!! I remember a famous singer at Orange who refused half that abuse for the water trial in Die Zauberflöte, packed her bags and went home! Matching her commitment is this idiosyncratic staging was Susanna Andersson as Blonde, general cake maker and squeeze of Pedrillo. Like her fellow soprano she has to scale the vocal heights as well as acting with conviction as Osmin pursues her with lascivious intent. She achieves both with flying colours as well as giving Pedrillo a few thrills on the couch as Belmonte and Konstanze whisper sweet nothings to each other on meeting again.

Mark Wilde as Pedrillo, cum football reporter, is a class act vocally and acts with conviction, albeit lacking projection of the spoken dialogue at times, of which more anon. As his fellow tenor, the American Norman Reinhardt lacks the ideal Mozartian vocal mellifluousness for the role, but copes with the demanding tessitura. The vocal and acted star is Matthew Rose as Osmin. He appears with suited acolytes, each complete with shades and blue tooth attachments. His sepulchral low notes are resonant whilst his Mafiosi brutality is compounded by the sheer physicality of his height and physique. I would love to see him and hear him in a more sensible production, even an updated one. It must be quite a change for him to swap the barn that is the Metropolitan Opera, New York, where he sang recently in the acclaimed Maria Stuarda production beamed in HD around the world, for the smaller but classy Garsington venue.

I have briefly touched on the non-musical issues. In my view this set and production are not of the standards expected at Garsington. I hope the company do not propose to follow Pesaro, or even Glyndebourne, by a policy of “hang the composer’s intentions, we can always fill our seats whatever abuse we pile on his work”. Words and dialogue often had no relationship with what Mozart saw. The flexibility of the Garsington stage allowed for many appealing gimmicks for an updated version. But with Selim portrayed as an Oligarch football club owner who lets the captives go on a whim because his team won the Champions League belies the drama and humanity portrayed in the last scene. Hearing and discussing the production with paying clients, words such as travesty and slapstick were not uncommon. Subsidised English National Opera and the like can afford to run a deficit whilst being radical and playing to sixty percent audiences, or so they seem to believe, I sense that Garsington traditions and clientele will be less understanding. Another issue arose in respect of the titles. None were shown for the dialogue, often adapted and even in other languages than English, even though it is widely recognised that singers are not the best at articulating and projecting the spoken word.  Nor were the titles sufficient in quantity for the sung words on both nights I attended to assist those who didn’t know the story

As I noted in my review of last year’s opening productions, life is full of challenges. Garsington Opera seems to thrive on them. Whilst the founder of Garsington Opera, the late Leonard Ingrams, had to fight a constant battle with his neighbours, Anthony Whitworth Jones had the greater problem of finding a new venue when Mrs Ingrams decided she wanted her home and environs back. That he settled on the Wormsley Estate was an inspiration, along with the new iconic theatre. Feeling his work done, he handed over to a new Artistic Director in Douglas Boyd, whilst bequeathing him this year’s programme. I suggest the challenges for Mr Boyd are in maintaining the high musical standards and pioneering repertoire, shown yet again this year, whilst setting some parameters as to the idiosyncrasies likely to be perpetuated on financial supporters and visitors by producers.

Garsington Opera Season continues with
Die Entführung aus dem Serail: 15, 19, 22*, 25 June, 1, 6 July  6.20pm
Maometto secondo: 16, 20, 26, 28 June, 2, 4, 10 July 5.45pm
Hänsel und Gretel: 23, 27, 29 June, 5, 7*, 9, 11 July 6.35pm
Community Opera Road Rage: 19 July 7.30pm; 20 July 2.30pm & 7.30pm



Robert J Farr