A Baffling and Disappointing ‘Update’ of Mozart’s Seraglio

GermanyGermany Mozart, Die Entführung aus dem Serail: Deutsche Oper Orchestra and Chorus, Donald Runnicles (conductor), Deutsche Oper, Berlin, 17.6.2016. (JMI)

Die Entführung aus dem Serail © Thomas Aurin

New Production:
Director: Rodrigo García
Sets: Rodrigo García and Ramón Diago
Costumes: Hussein Chalayan
Lighting: Carlos Marquerie

Konstanze: Kathryn Lewek
Belmonte: Matthew Newlin
Osmin: Tobias Kehrer
Blonde: Siobhan Stagg
Pedrillo: James Kryshak
Bassa Selim: Annabelle Mandeng

Expectations were running high for the premiere of this new production of The Abduction from the Seraglio. There was talk of an iconoclastic staging, where Bassa Selim would be a woman with a consequent modification of the love affairs in the Seraglio. On top of that there was the announcement from the Deutsche Oper that the production was not recommended for those under 16. Unfortunately, the final result left much to be desired. In fact, this was an opera that could have been announced under a different title.

The director, Rodrigo Garcia, has a great deal of theatrical experience in Argentina, his native country, as well as in Spain and France; if I’m not mistaken, he was making his debut in opera here. We’ve become so accustomed to ground-breaking productions that it’s harder to be impressed by one more of the kind. In this case, however, other circumstances make the staging worth rejecting.

To begin with, only Mozart’s music remains from the original Die Entführung aus dem Serail. The dialogues completely disappeared (apparently they weren’t to Mr. Garcia’s liking) and were replaced by ad hoc short dialogues in English which get amplified to the house – and are in rather bad taste. The plot, of course, is not exactly what’s contained in Mozart’s opera. We are in present times, and Konstanze, Blonde and Pedrillo appear to have been abducted by UFOs. They are taken to a mysterious place, where reigns free love (the abductees show a great dedication to it), ruled by an attractive female Bassa Selim, who has them as guests rather than prisoners. Belmonte, along with two young prostitutes, climbs into a red car that is mounted on huge tractor wheels and enters the domain of Ms. Selim. He is hired, along with Pedrillo, to run the laboratory, where they seem to produce only aphrodisiacs, judging from the results on stage. The escape of the Europeans, their subsequent capture and the final release is incomprehensible. The work finishes with Bassa Selim announcing that at the next service station Konstanze will leave Belmonte and hitchhike back because there is no better place to live.

Apart from the elimination of the dialogues and the change of plot, there is a continual bombardment of video images, some more fortunate than others. No aria is sung without constant movement on stage. Belmonte’s aria in the first act is accompanied by projections of images of him with the two prostitutes in full amatory action. For her two main arias, Konstanze shares the stage with about a dozen attractive young women, half in their underwear and the other half without it. The Europeans’ quartet becomes an orgy with a group of extras, half naked; everybody moves from one partner to another, regardless of sex. Finally, Osmin sings “Bachus vivat” surrounded by a group of cheerleaders, all of whom, of course, are naked.

Donald Runnicles’ conducting was a little short of lightness in the first part of the opera, but it can’t be easy to conduct Mozart’s music with what he had before his eyes. The orchestra did not seem particularly strong in this performance.

The protagonist of the opera is undoubtedly Konstanze, for whom Mozart wrote the most important arias. Her interpreter was American soprano Kathryn Lewek, whose performance was clearly insufficient. Ms. Lewek’s voice is attractive and she moves easily on stage, but she is a light soprano, bordering on the pure soubrette, and the character of Konstanze requires a much more important middle range.

Belmonte was played by Matthew Newlin, who was not particularly brilliant. He’s an unexceptional light-lyric tenor.

Bass Tobias Kehrer did well in the part of Osmin, with an attractive voice, well-suited to the role, but weaker on the way up. Siobhan Stagg as Blonde has a soprano that is adequate for the character, but there was little contrast between her voice and Konstanze’s, which is not her fault. Pedrillo was James Kryshak, who offered a small and pleasant voice.

The Deutsche Oper was at about 95% of capacity. Despite this being the premiere, the creative team did not take their bows. The audience booed very loudly when the final curtain fell.

José M. Irurzun

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