Die Entführung aus dem Serail / Amsterdam 2008 / Montvidas, Aiken et al. (3)

[parts one and two here and here.]

There is something infectious about Entführung, independent of the production. Even when I know the Entführung I am about to watch is going to be all barbed wire, concrete and despair, the overture still makes me smile.

Fortunately, although this production is unconventional, it’s not the barbed-wire-and-despair sort of unconventional. There’s some overturned scenery and a bit of BDSM, but one hardly even notices. Besides, I want to talk about the music.

The orchestral playing, by the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra under Constantinos Caryadis, is great. The overture has a sparkling, finely-textured feel, with a really nicely and lyrically shaped central section, although the recording seems to be tilted toward the treble — those piccolos are on the verge of causing pain. (Ever heard the joke about how to get two piccolos in tune with one another? But never mind, since there are no intonation problems here. I have no formal training in music whatsoever in the sense of knowing anything about music theory or composition, but I did play the violin for a while, which means I have a vast repertoire of cringe-worthy jokes at the expense of violists and wind players.)

The orchestra on its own is great; the interaction between orchestra and singers is also very high quality. I remember thinking during Osmin’s first song and his subsequent interaction with Pedrillo (Michael Smallwood) that that the orchestral sound was moving forward right where it should – there was a lot of personality to it in terms of interaction with the vocal parts. The same is true of Pedrillo’s “in Mohrenland” in Act III:

As far as singing is concerned: Edgaras Montvidas as Belmonte gets some gentle phrasing in during “hier soll ich dich denn sehen.” I didn’t immediately fall in love with his voice, but the characterization had my full attention. In general, this is a production where the singers’ acting tends to make sense for the individual characters as well as sort of click together into a larger whole. I liked it.

Laura Aiken as Konstanze consistently made the more ‘showy’ bits of the arias into expressions of the character’s feeling — her performance is extremely thoughtful in dramatic terms. I mentioned this earlier with reference to “ach, ich liebte” in Act I and it’s definitely true of “martern aller arten,” which had me on the edge of my seat:

However. As I was writing this I kept coming back to the conclusion that I have been sort of writing around this production than about it. My overall impression is that it holds together in both music and dramatic terms in a really interesting way, and I really like it, but I think I will have to watch it a second time to be able to articulate what I think is so neat about it.

Actually never mind that. I just had a thought. If I had to take a stab at it, I think I’d argue that the key is what ‘captivity’ means in the way they’ve set it up. As I said before, the production pulls the rug out from under the ostensible setting – it’s not at all clear that this is a representation of Turkey or ‘the east’ in any real way (although when I imagine Dubai, it contains lots of sofas like the one Konstanze and Selim are wrestling around on in the video above, but never mind.)

What then to do with this idea that Konstanze and Blonde and Pedrillo are captives or slaves? This is referred to over and over again, and at one point — someone tell me if this is an alteration to the original text, because it seemed to me that I had not heard this bit of dialogue before — I believe Konstanze even tells Selim that she wants to remain his slave. So what do these words mean? Are we talking captivity/slavery to what one wants rather than what one should do? I mean, can we strip this opera down to such an extent that Selim holding Konstanze captive is merely a sort of metaphor for Konstanze not wanting to do something that she feels duty-bound to do: return to Belmonte? It would mean that ultimately she doesn’t even really require rescuing, and thus that Belmonte’s general ineffectiveness makes total sense: he’s a bad rescuer because that’s not what he is supposed to be doing in the first place.