Die Entführung aus dem Serail / Stuttgart Opera 1998 (2)

(First part here.)

I was not making that up, about the chicken suit. My impulse is to explain the context for the chicken suit (and the egg, which I am also not making up, and if you ask me which one comes first I will tell you unequivocally that they both enter the stage at precisely the same time, although initially the egg is hidden) but I think if I tried to explain the chicken suit, I would have to also explain the figures in black and the tiger head and Selim’s big black rock which may or may not be connected to a person referred to as “Mamoni” and quite honestly these are not explanations that I am prepared, at this stage, to make.

I think the best way to get at this is to work backwards. What is the overall impression that you get from this? This is a production that operates with the sort of dream-logic that seemed to be in play in this production of Handel’s Ariodante. Both productions, in fact, involve an extra stage recessed into the rear of the stage. Zeitgeist, I guess. But never mind that right now. It’s partly dream logic, and it’s partly fairy tale logic. It’s worth noting that in Act III, when our heroes believe they are all about to die, K2 (i.e. acting-Konstanze) suddenly asks – “what do children do when they are lost in the woods?” The answer of course is “sing!” but the question itself suggests the space in which this is taking place.

But why would you stage Entführung as a strange dream? Perhaps for the same reason that you might double all the characters. There is a weird interiority to this production. It’s as if they are trying to turn the whole thing inside out. I mean, Entführung on the surface is a story about exteriors rather than interiors. It’s about the ‘exotic Other’ – the Turks, Islam and the Orient, from the point of view of eighteenth-century Europeans. But if you think about it in a certain way, it’s not really about those things – it’s about eighteenth-century Europeans talking to themselves about a mostly imagined version of the Other. Certainly there are no actual Turkish people in the room. What better way to represent this quality of the opera than by staging it as a very self-referential dream?

This may be behind the ‘Turks’ in the “Singt dem grosse Pasha Lieder” chorus in Act I. The chorus, men and women both, are dressed in stage ‘Turkish’ costumes, and carry pikes with severed heads and impaled babies on them. It looks like something out of an early modern European atrocity narrative (that is, a sort of standard narrative of the people you don’t like doing awful things – ripping babies from their mothers’ wombs, skewering children, strolling about with severed heads on sticks: these are all activities that the English ascribe to the Irish, the Catholics to the Protestants, the Dutch to the Spanish, the Christians to the Muslims, and so on). This is mirrored by a group of figures who scuttle silently onto the stage and cower in corners. At first they seem to be women in burkas, but their faces are daubed with green paint and they’re wearing creepy long-fingered gloves. They look like bugs. It looks like someone’s trippy nightmare about ‘scary foreign Muslims/Turks.’ If I had to guess, I’d say that representing ‘Turks’ in this dreamlike way on stage is a way of indicating that ‘Turks and Europeans’ is not what this version of the story is really about.

So we are left with the characters talking to themselves. What do they say? Pedrillo is often at odds with himself. Early on, P1 tells P2 to go away, since he (P1) can sing as well as speak, so what use is P2? The two bicker quite a bit, and there is some question in Act II as to who has manlier calves. Osmin, too, is often at odds with himself, but usually in ways he is not aware of – O1 nearly unwittingly throttles O2 at one point, and it’s probably worth remarking that unlike all the other doubles, Osmin’s is noticeably younger and trimmer than he is. He seems to be a bit slower, too – there is something of the stupid young thug about O2. Osmin, we can conclude, has some unresolved issues. Blonde gets on well with herself, which seems entirely right – I enjoyed the moment when, fearing death, Bl2 cries out in German that she is afraid and clings to Bl1, who replies in English, “Me too! Oh, me too!”

Belmonte and Konstanze are a different matter.

(Next part here.)

2 thoughts on “Die Entführung aus dem Serail / Stuttgart Opera 1998 (2)

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