Zurich Opera’s Confused and Confusing Entführung

SwitzerlandSwitzerland Mozart, Die Entführung aus dem Serail: Soloists, Orchestra La Scintilla / Maxim Emelyanychev (conductor), Zurich Opera, Zurich. 6.11.2016. (JR)


Production – David Hermann
Set – Bettina Meyer
Costumes – Esther Geremus
Lighting – Franck Evin
Chorus-master – Jürg Hämmerli
Sound collages – Malte Preuss
Dramaturgy – Beate Breidenbach

Bassa Selim – Sam Louwyck
Konstanze – Olga Peretyatko
Blonde – Claire de Sévigné
Belmonte – Pavol Breslik
Pedrillo – Michael Laurenz
Osmin – Nahuel Di Pierro

Some say this is their favourite Mozart opera, no masterpiece but a work full of charm and youthful exuberance. Mozart was only 25 when he wrote it, and it became successful despite the Emperor’s apparent criticism: “Too many notes, my dear Mozart”.

The overture sets the tone: a jaunty introduction with tinkling bells, cymbals and piccolos to evoke the Near East. Young Russian conductor Maxim Emelyanychev launched himself into the score like an Olympic gymnast.

The producer dispensed with a “curtain up” by showing us the set as we entered the auditorium, with the cast already on stage. Puzzlingly, the set starts as a modern-day restaurant. The head waiter turns out to be Osmin, the Pasha’s (or Bassa’s) mischievous employee; and Belmonte and Konstanze turn up as two of the diners. It is clear from the outset, when Konstanze throws a glass of water at Belmonte, that this is a tale not only of a Western woman abducted by a Turkish Pasha for his harem, but also of marital longings, fears, inadequacies and traumas. Bassa is portrayed as Belmonte’s vision, the embodiment of his jealousy. Konstanze sees him as the embodiment of her sexual yearning. Whilst Belmonte is hectic, the Pasha is calm and surprisingly courteous throughout. So far, so good: but here comes the rub. The producer creates doubles: Belmonte and his servant Pedrillo are look-a-likes, down to their hair, clothes and even visage. The same attempt is made for Konstanze and her maid Blonde – given striking purple satin dresses. Even if you had done your homework before the opera and read the synopsis, and even if you could follow the surtitles (not every seat in the house has that good fortune), you would most probably have been lost as to who was who. I had the benefit of the libretto (in the programme) and peered at it in the dark so I knew who was singing. The bedroom scenes were equally confusing, with Osmin showing homosexual tendencies towards Belmonte and with Belmonte and Pedrillo in bed together. Almost needless to say at the Zurich Opera, the ladies were in their underwear yet again.

The Turkish element was brought to the fore by having the chorus, later in the opera, appear in the restaurant and elsewhere, in full burkas, and Arabic script appearing on the wall of the Pasha’s palace. Osmin, when not Head Waiter, appears in pantomime Turkish garb with pointy slippers and scimitar, on a raised mini-stage at the rear of the set, when it is time to (nearly) decapitate his prisoners. The producers take care to inject some humour so as not to evoke visions of atrocities committed by Isis and Boko Haram.

As the scenery revolves, the intermissions are filled with strange engine-room rumblings, described in the programme as sound collages. On the first occurrence everyone (including members of the orchestra) looked to the heavens to see what sort of electronic defect was going to spoil the performance, but when they re-occurred they were simply looked upon as inappropriate and unnecessary.

The Pasha, a non-singing role, was evocatively portrayed by Sam Louwyck, who is a Belgian dancer, choreographer, actor and member of a rock band. His stances were mesmerizing throughout.

Vocally, the singers were more than satisfactory. Pavol Breslik has been a member of Zurich Opera’s ensemble for a number of years and is a well-rounded firm tenor. He executed his coloratura passages with aplomb; if he has a weakness, it’s his rather wooden acting.

Young Russian soprano Olga Peretyatko is working her way up the operatic ladder and impressed with her fine vocal skills, a strong voice with admirable technique – her coloratura glittered. Claire de Sévigné, with Zurich Opera’s “International Opera Studio” continues to impress with her bright soprano and sparkling top notes.

I loved the deep resonant bass of Nahuel Di Pierro who has to go down to a low D, possibly the lowest note in any opera. He acts well too.

Michael Laurenz, as Pedrillo, is a lighter tenor than Breslik, but not without volume as he showed in his main aria “Frisch zum Kampfe! Frisch zum Streite”!”

The orchestra, on opening night, was almost on top of the notes though the conductor hurtled through the score, causing some unfortunate noises from the period woodwind.

The audience were rather mixed with their reception; much to like, much not to like, much to confuse. It was certainly interesting and fun.

John Rhodes

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