Die Entführung aus dem Serail / Stuttgart Opera 1998 (1)

Let us begin with the Picts. Images of Pictish body art, as imagined by early modern European artists, were published in numerous places in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. This is one such image. I know this only because Karen Kupperman’s book Indians and English: Facing Off in Early America (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2003) contains a discussion of it on pp. 58-62, the particulars of which are not relevant to Die Entführung aus dem Serail. But the image is, because it’s what Osmin is wearing in the form of a brightly colored body-stocking. For anyone who reflexively flinches at the words “body stocking” and “Osmin” fear not, he’s got a skirt too.

You may be wondering why Osmin is suited up in a representation of a representation of Pictish body art. I mean, I sure was. But let us leave that for the time being.

I’m not sure how to describe this production. It’s not set anywhere, or at any particular time. Osmin has his body art, Pedrillo is in a pink buffa version of early seventeenth-century clothes, Belmonte is a sort of cartoon Spaniard with a black hat and a little pencil moustache, Konstanze lucks out with a rather elegant black dress (and Catherine Naglestad lucks out in that this particular black dress, unlike some others, is not missing any important pieces), and Blonde has a suit, top hat and riding crop.

The action takes place on a stage with another stage within it. The two are connected by a short stair. Reference is made to the stage numerous times – Pedrillo notes at one point that he is alone on it, for example, and after the quartet that ends Act II the actors congratulate the singers and discuss a rest before the planned escapade at midnight. Not long after, Pedrillo notes that they’ve forgotten the ladder they always use for this opera. Blonde wonders whether they can’t do without it this one time – and it seems that they can.

I should probably mention one other thing. All the roles (except Selim) have been doubled – we’ve got two Belmontes, two Konstanzes, two Blondes, and so on. One is the singer, the other an actor. I’ll get to what this does and why anyone would want to do it in a minute, but I should note that in general, it is a good thing to be careful what you wish for. With Don Carlos last week I complained at length that there was not enough acting. Here there is what I would call a mild excess of acting. Not just in the sense that the actors are doing it and the singers are also doing it, but also in that the acting itself is fairly highly wrought. There is a lot of it in a — I don’t know, in a sort of sheer physical sense. This production is a little exhausting in that way. Between the acting and Selim’s big black mysterious rock and the occasional chicken suit, things can get complicated.

(Next part here.)

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