Monday 9 June 2014

Mozart - Die Entführung aus dem Serail (Salzburger Festspiele, 2013 - Blu-ray)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Die Entführung aus dem Serail

Live from Hangar-7, Salzburger Festspiele, 2013

Hans Graf, Adrian Marthaler, Felix Breisach, Desirée Rancatore, Tobias Moretti, Javier Camarena, Rebecca Nelsen, Thomas Ebenstein, Kurt Rydl

Arthaus Musik - Blu-ray

Personally, I think that opera is one of the most progressive, cutting-edge artforms out there, continually pushing stage-craft and the art of performances to new heights, but I'm aware that there are some opera-goers who would prefer that productions remain in the traditional form on the stage in an opera house. What is commonly known as Regietheater can certainly push familiar works into alienatingly obscure and ill-fitting concepts, but as live cinema and webcasts have shown, there is a case for taking opera away the notion of it belonging to dusty theatres that remain the preserve of a privileged elite and strive to make it fresh, modern and accessible to a wider, younger audience.

I'm not sure that this is something that the Salzburg Festival has traditionally been good at, as anyone would be able to see from the expensive corporate promotion and the kind of audience visibly present at what looks to be an exclusive air terminal in Salzburg in this 2013 festival production of Die Entführung aus dem Serail. On the other hand, the technical achievement of the performance and its live broadcast to Austrian television is a fine example of the innovation and creative forces that go into opera and its outreach and accessibility is ground-breaking and impressive. I'm not sure that this Blu-ray release of the event will convince any of the traditionalists out there, but I'm certain that it is capable of reaching a fresh new audience.

Basically, Die Entführung aus dem Serail Live at Hangar-7 in Salzburg is an open-air production shot in a vast aircraft hangar/terminal/museum that holds aircraft, helicopters and classic cars in a boldly coloured, modern, high-tech building with plush cafés and lounge bars. The performance takes place on 10 or 11 stages that have been set-up around the building, the singers moving from one to another seamlessly down ramps and on platforms, singing into clearly visible radio-mic headsets. The Camerata Salzburg orchestra play live from Hangar-8, while the audience (in expensive suits and dresses, carrying glasses of champagne) wander around freely, listening to the live play-back on in-ear headphones, while skipping back occasionally so as to dodge camera crews and avoid bumping into the performers.

The concept for the production takes the opera out of the Turkish seraglio and re-imagines Bassa Selim as a fashion designer with a private (sponsored) jet-plane, his seraglio a sweatshop of seamstresses who manufacture his clothes. On other stages Blonde does a bit of ironing and measuring, Pedrillo serves drinks at bar and Osmin assists photo-shoots of models wearing the Pasha's creations and Belmonte comes along seeking to be engaged as a parfumier. Barring Stockhausen, there aren't too many works that call out for the use of helicopters, high-speed jeeps and aeroplanes as part of the performance, so clearly this isn't exactly what Mozart had in mind. It is at least debatable that Mozart would be taking advantage of every opportunity to put the essence of the work across to a popular audience if he were around today and the idea here works perfectly well with the original, finding a suitably glamorous exotic setting to show how women are treated as commodities in so many walks of life.

This is an entirely new way of viewing an opera, with multiple cameras and audience members getting to places you would never come near to in a traditional staged performance or indeed a conventional filmed live performance. It can be a little distracting when you find yourself looking at those bemused figures in the audience, or find yourself thinking more about the technical challenges that the crew must be facing in the live TV broadcast, but at the very least you can't help but be impressed at the achievement. It's superbly designed, technically accomplished and executed to perfection, but I would also argue that it's entirely in the spirit of the work, with a witty production that dazzles and amuses.

You might be less inclined to go along with this were the quality of the performance compromised in any way, but it's not at all. Diana Damrau was originally cast as Konstanze for the production but had to cancel, leaving Desirée Rancatore with the unenviable task of filling such a challenging role in a highly unconventional production at very short notice. She's not quite up to holding the higher end and is a little shaky at first, but she does exceptionally well considering, warming up well by Act II where she gives a good account of the 'Welcher Wechsel, herrscht in meiner Seele" aria. Rebecca Nelsen is a rather more confident Blonde and Javier Camarena a reliable Belmonte. Kurt Rydl isn't the steadiest as Osmin, but gets by and with Thomas Ebenstein a fine Pedrillo, this is a cast who are more than capable of doing the work justice.

The use of radio-mics allows for softer and sweeter singing that doesn't have to soar above the orchestra and this works well for the singers here. Some might see that as an unacceptable compromise, but it gets the best balance between the singing and the orchestra and it's the end result that counts in this production. Hans Graf conducts the Camerata Salzburg through an elegant account of the work that shows just how sublimely beautiful Mozart's maturing writing is in Die Entführung aus dem Serail, and it all adds up to an impressive and sometimes stunning production of the work. At the very least this is an ambitious and largely successful attempt to approach the work in a new, fresh and original manner.