Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Die Entführung aus dem Serail
Robin Ticciati, David McVicar, Sally Matthews, Edgaras Montvidas, Tobias Kehrer, Brenden Gunnell, Franck Saurel, Mari Eriksmoen, Jonas Cradock
Opus Arte - Blu-ray
In a radical new approach to directing opera, David McVicar has moved more towards the idea of respecting the original period and libretto in order to get as close as possible to the composer's intentions. It's radical only in that such fidelity to the source is not currently fashionable in opera productions, but McVicar's contention would be that putting the work above the director's ego is surely paramount. While McVicar may have been a little more flexible with period detail in other opera productions in the past, he has however always seemed to be less inclined to mess about with the original intentions of Mozart operas and you can't really argue with the reasoning behind that that decision.
The great Mozart operas need no updating to assist a modern audience in grasping the universality and humanism that lies within them. By the same token their qualities ensure that they can equally withstand a modern interpretation, but what matters is that the director remains faithful to the meaning and intent of the works, and in that respect 'traditional' works just as well as 'revised'. Whether the same qualities can be found in an old-fashioned Singspiel comedy like Die Entführung aus dem Serail however is more questionable, as is the decision to play it straight with period detail and literalism. It works, of course - it's still Mozart - but whether it presents the work in its best light for a modern audience is debatable.
Evidently it's not possible to stage a work such as this as it was originally intended. The world is a different place, people behave a little differently and they have different ideas of what humour can be derived from western women being held captive in a barbaric Turkish harem. Die Entführung aus dem Serail however is no inconsequential lightweight comedy and Mozart still manages to find the most noble human sentiments in even the most unlikely places and brings it out beautifully in his music. All McVicar's production seeks to do is make it all seem a little more realistic and credible without damaging the integrity of the work.
Or indeed the humour. Realistic and credible is not really essential for a comedy opera and it can in fact be a mistake to take it too seriously. Christof Loy has already established that when you include all or most of the spoken dialogue, you have a very different Die Entführung aus dem Serail from the general perception of the work. McVicar's direction, also retaining most of the spoken text, allows the humour to work alongside this, and undoubtedly that's an important aspect that contributes to the wider human element of the work.
I'm not sure though that there's much to be gained from asking Vicki Mortimer to go into such meticulous detail in researching and building the elaborate sets for this Glyndebourne production. McVicar tweaks the public and private locations from scene to scene to make it more realistic - even if there is still no sense whatsoever of it being in a seraglio - and Mortimer and the crew oblige with impressive stage-craft. For the amount of effort put into this however, it doesn't seem to bring a corresponding increase in value or depth. If however all you gain is a sense of order and elegance as well as a certain delicacy of touch, well then that suits Mozart, and McVicar, as he often does, judges the tone perfectly and matches it on the stage impressively.
Looking like something of a sister production for McVicar's 2013 Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg however, it's a sign of the safer and more traditional side adopted in recent years by Glyndebourne. There are still some daring reworkings in each year's programme, but not here and not with Mozart - at least not since the 2010 'La Dolce Vita' version of Don Giovanni. Die Entführung aus dem Serail has proven its worth in the Mozart operatic canon over the years and it deserves a serious treatment. It gets that here with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment under Robin Ticciati, the period orchestra arrangement enlivening the work with a real kick. There's much to enjoy in the treatment then, just not much that is imaginative or adventurous.
Unfortunately, while the cast is impressive and the singers are all very capable, it's not good enough overall to give the production a bit more of a lift or an edge. Sally Matthews has a powerful range and has impressed many times on the Glyndebourne stage, but her timbre is a little harsh for Mozart. McVicar clearly intends to depict Konstanze as a woman with a little more fire and grit, and you do get a realistic sense of the seriousness of her predicament, but the lyricism and the romantic sensibility isn't there. Her voice seems warmer in the second and third acts, but without a sufficient connection with Edgaras Montvidas' Belmonte, it never really comes together the way you might like.
Montvidas is fine and if he similarly doesn't have the beautiful soaring tone of a typical Mozart tenor or a prototype Tamino he nonetheless gives a good performance as Belmonte. It just doesn't particularly stand out. For Die Entführung to work well however, you really need the comic roles to be well cast, and there at least the singing matched the tone being strived for with Brenden Gunnell a lively and desperate Pedrillo - a role that has Papageno-like potential for stealing the show in this opera - and with Tobias Kehrer excelling as his adversary Osmin. Mari Eriksmoen's voice wasn't always the strongest, but her Blonde was played well.
What continues to be a remarkable discovery however, fully justifying the decision to include as much of the spoken dialogue as possible, is just how important and significant the non-singing role of Pasha Selim is to the whole tone and purpose of the opera. It's one that proves that drama is the beating heart of opera and one that Mozart wasn't afraid to entrust to an actor rather than a singer. Franck Saurel plays the role rather well here, showing the kind of dynamic and emotional investment that Selim brings to the work, deepening the serious questions raised as well as contrasting with and extending the comedy. Proving McVicar's point, given the right environment and fidelity to the intent of Mozart's music and drama, Die Entführung aus dem Serail speaks for itself.
The quality of the HD transfer on Blu-ray is exceptionally good, not least with the detail that can be heard in the DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 and the LPCM Stereo mixes. The BD includes a feature that looks into how the visual look of the production was developed. There's more on this in the booklet, where there is an interview with the set designer Vicki Mortimer. The booklet also contains an essay by Cori Ellison and a synopsis for the opera.