United Kingdom Mozart, Die Entführung aus dem Serail: Soloists, The Glyndebourne Chorus (chorus master: Jeremy Bines), Glyndebourne Tour Orchestra, Christoph Altstaedt (conductor). Glyndebourne Opera House, 15.10.2015
Mozart, Die Entführung aus dem Serail
Belmonte – Ben Bliss
Osmin – Clive Bayley
Pedrillo – James Kryshak
Pasha Selim – Franck Saurel
Konstanze – Ana Maria Labin
Blonde – Rebecca Nelsen
Sir David McVicar (director)
Ian Rutherford (revival director)
Vicki Mortimer (designs)
Andrew George, Colm Seery (choreography)
Paule Constable, David Mannion (lighting)
Strong musical values were in evidence at Glyndebourne’s ready-to-tour Entführung aus dem Serail. A generally young cast sang – and acted – well, giving rise to the not unfamiliar thought from this company that these are names we shall see and hear again. I found Ben Bliss’s Belmonte a little stiff to start with, but he seemed more in his stage element as time went on, revealing a lyric tenor of considerable beauty and sensitivity, both verbal and musical (a false opposition, I know). His third-act duet with Ana Maria Labin’s Konstanze was quite ravishing of tone. Labin’s performance was excellent throughout, Mozart’s coloratura holding no fears for her, but just as important, put to musical and dramatic use. Cleanness and keenness of delivery were as one.
The same could be said of their servants, Pedrillo and Blonde. Blondes rarely disappoint; that, however, is no reason not to acknowledge the spirited performance of Rebecca Nelsen, both in vocal and stage terms. I certainly should not wish to get on the wrong side of her. James Kryshak offered a splendidly eager, puppyish performance as Pedrillo. Again, vocal beauty and dramatic purpose were not to be rent asunder. The pair showed excellent chemistry too.
Clive Bayley trod Osmin’s line between comedy and a touch of pathos with consummate skill, although the production (more on which soon) did not necessarily help in that respect. Franck Saurel seemed a good actor to me, especially during the rare moments at which he toned things down; however, this Bassa Selim spent far too much of his time shouting and screaming tones of near-hysteria. He may have been following orders, since there was sensitivity to be seen and heard, especially at the end. A pity, though.
The Glyndebourne Tour Orchestra under Christoph Altstaedt offered warm, stylish playing: far rarer nowadays than it should be in Mozart. There were no ‘period’ grotesqueries, although a few more strings would not have gone amiss. (Karl Böhm’s Staatskapelle Dresden will surely always remain the model here.) Still, Altstaedt’s tempi and balances were well considered – well considered enough for one barely to notice them. Mozart’s all-encompassing Shakespearean dramatic sympathies were much in evidence, then, to the ears.
If you sensed a ‘but’ coming, you were, I am afraid, right to do so. David McVicar’s production, here revived by Ian Rutherford, proves a considerable disappointment. Rarely does it get in the way of the musical performance – to be fair, something not necessarily to be taken for granted – yet, by the same token, it seems to have little or nothing to say. I should be tempted to say McVicar was still languishing in his Zeffirelli period, save for the fact that it now seems too long to be a mere period. Whatever has happened to him is a great pity, since he used to be capable of interesting, theatrically alert productions, his ENO Turn of the Screw a case in point. Now it is ‘light entertainment’, at least for some, to the near-exclusion of anything else, the Royal Opera Trojans a particular low point. Here there is a vague updating to the time of composition, perhaps to underline the Pasha’s status as an Enlightened Despot, but ultimately to precious little effect. One has the distinct impression that it might just have been because the director liked eighteenth-century costumes better than those from a somewhat earlier period.
At any rate, we seem to be firmly in the realm of ‘costume drama’, as opposed to putting the history to dramatic work. Orientalism, as in that Trojans production, is reproduced, even heightened, rather than interrogated. If this is not a gift of a work in which to do just that, then I really do not know what is. What should we think of the ruler’s self-revelation as better than his Western charges? And how is it compromised by the fact that he is, by origin, a Christian himself, a ‘renegade’? What of the Janissary music; is it merely ‘pretty’, local colour? If so, does that not in itself raise questions? And what of all those darkly erotic, sado-masochistic suggestions arising from torture and the eagerness with which it is suggested?
Nothing, so far as I could discern, on any of those questions or many others. I could only long for what I imagine Calixto Bieito must have made of the work in Berlin. Instead, we have an extravagant barrage of extra actors, children included, and some jarring ‘low humour’. The Mozart family’s correspondence had a celebrated scatological element, but I am not sure that that translates into Osmin belching and farting. One need not go so far as, and would clearly be unwise to imitate, Stefan Herheim’s brilliant Salzburg production – the most recent I had seen, as long ago as 2006, prior to this – in completely reimagining the work as a profound meditation on sexual politics. If the Orientalism is going to remain, though, something needs saying about it – and to it.