[previous section here.]
So. About the music. There are some good performances here. I already mentioned Christine Schäfer, who despite having to scamper all over the stage during “Martern aller Arten” for example, sounded consistently very nice. (She also sings the role of Konstanze on this recording, which has the added bonus of being just a CD, so there is no barbed wire unless you want to imagine it yourself.)
Paul Groves (Belmonte) gets a decidedly unheroic entrance for “Hier soll ich dich denn sehen.” He emerges from a cardboard box. But he sounds very good. I have heard tenors stretch to reach the topmost notes of this aria, but Groves’s voice seems to enclose it all easily, and the sound itself is very easy on the ears:
I also enjoyed Franz Hawlata’s Osmin. It took me until well into Act II to figure out where I had heard/seen him before — he’s Ochs in this Salzburg version of Der Rosenkavalier. But anyway. I am not discussing Der Rosenkavalier right now, although I can by a process of association get from there back to Entführung via Malin Hartelius, who I recently listened to singing Sophie and in this case listened to singing Blonde.
I always have trouble coming up with something to say about her performances. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the way she sounds. She’s got one of those agile bright voices where the top notes are always precise and very pretty. I have no quarrel with it. I think, though, that I have yet to have a “wow!” moment with Hartelius. I don’t doubt that the “wow!” moment is out there, on some recording that I have not yet heard – I just haven’t experienced it yet.
The orchestral playing, by the Mozarteum Orchestra Salzburg under Marc Minkowski, is probably not going to nail anyone to the wall. This production was staged in what looks like the interior courtyard of a building, with the audience, orchestra and small stage area wedged in quite closely together, so between this and the sound quality of the recording itself the sound, for example with the percussion in the overture, sounded oddly hard. There was plenty of energy to this, but on the whole, I didn’t notice any of those great moments of orchestral/vocal interaction that I enjoyed with the Amsterdam Entführung I watched last week.
At this point the production is going to intrude again. This is one of those things that is hard to put one’s finger on, but I will hazard the statement that this performance, as a whole, lacks chemistry. Or charisma. Or something. I don’t think the fault here lies in the acting. I think it’s the production. In a production that’s truly abstract, like the Amsterdam one, precisely because it’s ‘nowhere’ you can just take the relationships and the emotions as they are presented, because there is no context for them to be out of.
But in this case they have committed to a context. And over and over, the modern setting seems at odds with the types of things the characters are thinking and feeling, even though they have re-written a lot of the spoken dialogue to be more modern (e.g. Blonde tells Osmin that she is from England, where women have “rights”). Whenever the opera intrudes into the production, I have a sense that the emotion in the music is not quite right, somehow. This means that the relationships among the characters, although explicable in basic terms of love and friendship and duty, always seem sort of strange – why are these people behaving like this?
So. The setting makes the emotions strange and sort of — I don’t know, sort of stilted, in a way that’s hard to pin down. This has musical consequences. There are, as I said, some very good performances here, but you don’t really get any of those moments where the emotion and the acting and the music just cohere into one and you can’t look away. I think the reason you don’t get these is that the overall effect of the way they’ve staged this precludes it. I don’t want to argue that it is impossible to put together a dramatically as well as musically compelling modern staging of Entführung. But I don’t think this one is it.